Wednesday, May 30, 2012

OTAs Give Us Ingredients, Not The Recipe.

When I was teaching Massage Therapy back in another life, I focused on one modality in particular-Deep Tissue. By that I mean real Deep Tissue, not just deeper pressure like you may get at a local spa. Dr. Ida P. Rolf was a biochemist who invented Structural Integration, or "Rolfing", a form of bodywork that reorganizes the connective tissues, called fascia, that permeate the entire body. I taught Deep Tissue based on this modality and one of the things I stressed to my students was that I was giving them the "ingredients, not the recipe." They would have everything brought completely into focus at the next level at The Rolf Institute of Structural Integration.

The OTAs are similar to this. They give us those niceties of insight as to what to expect from the team's direction with the new offense and from individual players. Being that it's "football in shorts" as Tomlin and other coaches say, it isn't remotely the recipe that will constitute the complete offensive and/or defensive body of work, but merely the various ingredients that will eventually come into focus in training camp and, of course, the season.

The various Steelers beat writers and Pittsburgh columnists allow us to have a glimpse of that insight as they report to us what they're seeing.

Bob Labriola of Steelers Digest told us Tuesday that "John Clay looks like he has a nice burst running the ball." I threw out the possibility about two weeks ago that we could see a possible roster spot for Clay if he were to live up to what was projected based on his play at Wisconsin. If he continues to show that "nice burst", he'll provide a nice dilemma for the Steelers coaching staff. They could be looking at a real "problem" with Rashard Mendenhall (who reportedly is looking good and rehabbing well), Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch, Chris Rainey, John Clay AND the implementation of a fullback. There will most likely only be four running back/fullback spots, so there essentially is already a log jam. Might we see Chris Rainey listed a wide receiver to make room? Check back in August for that answer.

Speaking of wide receivers, Labriola told us that "No. 88 (Emmanuel Sanders) looks fast, has been catching everything and making it look easy." Again, it's football in shorts, but any time that Manny has on the field is valuable time. He had feet (surgeries) and knee issues last year that kept him from flourishing like I had expected him to do. He has a very high ceiling, world class speed (4.41 in the 40) and, with the retirement of Hines Ward, is the best blocking receiver the Steelers have. He's also a polished route runner, which is an advantage he has over Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace. I'm personally pulling heavily for Manny-he has the tools to be a No. 1 receiver.

Labs gave us "One more: Ziggy Hood wears a weighted vest under his practice jersey every day." I've blogged before about Ziggy and his gap and technique limitations, but I'm only slightly less concerned about his core strength, being that he's been moved out of position before. Like Casey Hampton alluded to once when asked about Ziggy's being the strongest on the team, there is a difference between weight room strength and "grown man strength." That may have shown itself on the field in that the first season in which Ziggy was alone at the position, the Steelers defense gave up 99.8 yards per carry. So, I'm in favor of the weighted vest if it helps him in any way. The on-the-field practice and gameplay, though, are still the best ways to get that "grown man strength."

Dejan Kovacevic, sports columnist with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, had some interesting if not encouraging comments about certain players too. Kovacevic stresses the need for playmakers on defense, the scary type that the Steelers have acquired of late on offense. In line with that he said that Curtis Brown looks really good and even spoke specifically of a particularly sensational athletic play during an OTA session. He also talked about former West Virginia Mountaineer Mortty Ivy, calling him a "ballhawk" and saying that even near the goal line he just "has a nose for the football." Ivy, who was mainly on the practice squad last year, simply needs the opportunity to show those skills more definitively. Kovacevic's description, though, of Brown and Ivy is exactly what is needed on defense: players who are young, athletic and, especially, hungry.

Both James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are being reported as looking very healthy. Harrison looks good and doesn't seem to be hampered by the back problems that hindered him all of last year. Woodley is spoken of as running "full sprint." Their presence is going to be sorely needed to bring back the splash plays that the Steelers defense was missing last year. Turnovers, sacks and getting the ball back on a short field were simply missing last year, and the aggressive play that those two bring is directly tied to that.

Another player who affects that is Lawrence Timmons. Kovacevic again provides some insight as he had a chance to talk to "Juan". Kovacevic wrote, "Timmons just told me he's aiming for "12 to 14" sacks this year. If that sounds high for a guy who had two last year, consider a) he bounces back and forth between inside and outside all year because of injuries to others and b) the man actually predicted 18 for last year. "I'm being a little more careful," he said with a grin."

Very true. Timmons was moved around a lot because of the aforementioned injuries last year. He needs to stay put so he can prove that he truly is one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL like the coaches say he is and like I personally believe he can be.

Oh, evidently Chris Rainey is fast.

Speaking of the OTAs from a different angle, Ed Bouchette reported Wednesday that Mike Adams, David DeCastro and Alameda Ta'amu "can attend once their course ends, not necessarily when the semester ends. So, it now appears that all three will be here for the June 12-14 minicamp, at the least, and Adams actually could be here sometime next week." This is good news because, considering Adams and DeCastro are being looked at as potential starters, they need as much time and as many reps as they can get.

DeCastro might be under contract at that point too, because the Patriots signed Chandler Jones, the last unsigned draft pick left in front of DeCastro, last week. I expect the deal should get done soon.

Ryan Clark: "There were a lot of scenarios we talked about how we could lose that game.Tim Tebow throwing for 300 yards wasn't one of them." It wasn't for me either.

One last thing. With the release, and possible soon-to-come retirement, of James Farrior the Steelers lost more than just a player, they lost a leader. As I wrote in a blog a couple of months ago, leadership can't be drafted, nor can one just assume a player's replacement can take on that mantle. It will most likely take a few players to take on various aspects of that role. Think of it this way: when Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Largent retired, he held all major NFL receiving records, including: most receptions in a career (819), most receiving yards in a career (13,089), and most touchdown receptions (100). He also held a then-record streak of 177 consecutive regular-season games with a reception. Point: it took four different men to break the records held by one man. We should look at Farrior and his record of leadership the same way.