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Joined: Mon May 19, 2008 8:21 pm's Pat Kirwan visits steelers camp

Postby thesteelhammer » Mon Aug 04, 2008 7:07 pm

I've bolded some things Kirwan said that i find interesting and put My comments in () and italics;jsessionid=5DFC00DBE2D5248E170A3CFD4E75ECB0?id=09000d5d809b5e9d&template=with-video&confirm=true

LATROBE, PA. -- It's always a pleasure to make a camp tour stop at the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers. There were close to 4,000 loyal fans from all over the country at the full-contact practice I recently attended. As one fan said, "I can't afford tickets to the games so I take my two-week vacation in the summer and get to as many practices as I possibly can, and my kids get a chance to grow up Steeler fans."

A number of teams have tremendous loyalty from their fans but there is something different about the Pittsburgh fans. It's the knowledge of the game, the passion, the history, and in some ways the sense of responsibility to be there for the team. In turn, the entire Steelers organization really cares about the fans.

The offense is clearly in transition from an "old school" power-run system that attacks with the play-action pass into a spread pass offense with a zone running scheme. (Since Bettis retired,-duh) The defense, meanwhile, returns all of its starters and most of its backups.

Here are the six storylines that rang loud and clear to me after a day of interviewing the Steelers' players, coaches, scouts and front office executives.

1. Has Casey Hampton's poor physical conditioning hurt this defense?
The key to the 3-4 defense is the nose tackle. The guy over the center must command a double team, which in turn frees up an inside linebacker to pursue the run and blitz the quarterback. Hampton couldn't finish the fitness test and has let his weight get to a dangerous level where he's at risk of injury and a loss of effectiveness. Most of the players think he'll be back and remain a force. Even if he isn't, a few guys referred to backup nose tackle Chris Hoke as a guy who can step in without missing a beat.

Hoke told me he is confident he can do the job, but realizes he will return to the bench when Hampton shapes up. Keep in mind, the Steelers are 12-0 when Hoke plays nose tackle.

Hampton's lack of conditioning is a disappointment to the front office and as one player said, "A slap in the face to Mike Tomlin."

2. Is the new offensive scheme the right direction to take considering the personnel?
As tight end Heath Miller said, "Ben (Roethlisberger) is our best player and the spread offense features our best player." It is clear Big Ben had a big influence on the evolving offense. Two years ago he told me he wanted to do the things Carson Palmer does with the Bengals offense (like lose?) and last year Roethlisberger got to do more of those things. He responded by throwing 32 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions. He looks even better in camp this year.

The addition of rookie WR Limas Sweed has been handled with a quiet optimism, but it is clear that everyone thinks Sweed will be a big factor in the three-wide receiver package this year.

The zone-running scheme gets scrutinized a bit more than the passing game. As one offensive lineman said, "Our linemen were all brought here because we were a power run team and this new scheme doesn't fit all the linemen."

The skepticism could be a result of the loss of All Pro guard Alan Faneca in free agency. He was famous for his pulling ability in the strong-side run game. The void he left has created questions not only about the run-blocking but also about the pass protection.

How will the Steelers use running backs Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore?
Parker was leading the NFL in rushing last year before he was hurt in Week 16 and now he teams up with rookie Rashard Mendenhall. The best description of how the two backs will coexist came from a lineman who told me Parker will own the outside runs, while Mendenhall will dominate inside the tackles. (How will defenses ever figure that one out?)

Linebackers Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons both told me that Mendenhall is a load on the inside and has good hands as a receiver.

Moore, meanwhile, is adept with the third-down blocking schemes and is also a capable receiver. The run game could resemble a blend of that of the Jaguars and Giants, with each back filling a distinct role.

The only remaining question will be if the Steelers run the ball enough to satisfy both players and leave Moore in the third-down package.

4. Can the club fix its special teams problems?
While I was at camp, general manager Kevin Colbert signed Eddie Drummond to bolster the return game. Last year the Steelers were 21st in kick returns and 23rd in punt returns. Even if it is for the short term, the Steelers are counting on Drummond to help.

The coverage units are also an issue. A 3-4 defense like Pittsburgh's should have enough backup linebackers to expect better coverage. One young backer who is drawing some early attention is rookie Mike Humpal from Iowa. Third-round pick Bruce Davis needs to be a factor as well.

5. What should the Steelers do with their offensive line?
During the first week of camp, Willie Colon was the starting right tackle and Max Starks was working with the second offense. This despite the fact that Starks was told he was competing for the starting spot. I asked Starks how many reps he has taken with the starters and his answer was zero. He thought that would soon change. Keep in mind, the Steelers put a transition tag on Starks, giving him a salary equaled to the top 10 offensive linemen in the NFL. (Crazy!)

The left guard spot is still a question mark since Faneca's departure. Chris Kemoeatu was supposed to get the first shot at it, but with him being hurt, backup center Sean Mahan is getting the work. (We'd been hearing Essex was getting those snaps? ) After watching the line at practice, I could make a case that the best candidate to replace Faneca is Colon. (and yet our coaches won't try him at guard) As one former Steeler lineman revealed at practice, "Willie is as mean or meaner than Faneca and plays a tough brand of football." Colon indicated to me that he would have no problem shifting inside.

6. Who will start at the inside linebacker spots?
The most heated battle on defense is at inside linebacker as Larry Foote tries to hold off second-year player Lawrence Timmons. Don't be too quick to pencil Timmons into the starting lineup -- after talking to Foote it's clear he is not going to quietly surrender his spot in the lineup.

As Foote said, "We are moving quickly with our installation of defenses and I know all of the calls from being out there and I'm playing fast."

Timmons has an edge to him and is focused on overtaking Foote, but it's not going to be easy. As I left camp I got the feeling Foote would be the opening-day starter.

Final analysis
The Steelers know the Cleveland Browns are getting better, but they remain confident they will defend their division title.

Every team has a lack of depth at certain positions and the Steelers are no exception. Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel have to stay healthy on the defensive line, safety Troy Polamalu must avoid the injuries that plagued him last year and the offensive line has to protect Roethlisberger better than it did last season.

If all goes well, this team can win 12 games and the division, but the Browns may be closer than the Steelers realize.

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Re:'s Pat Kirwan visits steelers camp

Postby darthsteel » Mon Aug 04, 2008 10:12 pm

I dont know how these media guys can walk into a camp for a day and leave saying the steellers can win 12 games with a chaotic oline situataion and possibly the nastiest schedule the steelers have been up against in thier history!

Now next season when the team is geared up with a soft schedule and a stiller fan see's everything is in place for a championship run, a media guy will come in and leave saying this could be a 9-7 team if everything falls into place for them.
They will make this statement after the stillers come off a 9-7 season with the most brutal schedule in history and that is all they will base it on as kirwin is most likely basing his predictions on last yrs 10-6 season..

I think this team can win 11 games as a steeler fan(if the line is somewhat competative) and if they start out 4-1, I will start fantasizing about 13-3 ect...with a superbowl run. But when I take off my steeler hat and talk reality on august 4th there is no way I can say the stillers have a chance of going 12-4 rite now with the oline in utter chaos and that rediculous schedule lurking in the weeds!

You also have to wonder if you can count on troy being on the field for a whole season and casy being anywhere near probowl caibre...

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Re:'s Pat Kirwan visits steelers camp

Postby jstallworth82 » Mon Aug 04, 2008 10:26 pm

with this O-Line and HC I don't se them winning more than 10 and that won't win the division. I hope i am wrong, but I am not real impresses with the team right now toooo many distractions.

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Re:'s Pat Kirwan visits steelers camp

Postby Father George » Tue Aug 05, 2008 11:17 pm

...but the Browns may be closer than the Steelers realize.

He had me up until the very end. We win 12 games we will fuckin win the division.

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