Some reaction to the news on Le’Veon Bell and Tom Brady:
--- It was interesting to me that some local news stations led with the news on Brady and not on Bell. Brady is a much bigger story nationally but Bell does play for the Steelers, is an All-Pro who was the NFL’s second-leading rusher last year and there was news because his suspension was reduced. Just a curiosity, that’s all.
--- Another thing that grabbed me was that Brady sent 10,000 texts in the four months from the time he got a new cell phone until he destroyed that phone on the eve of his hearing in late June. Ten thousand! I did the math – that comes to an average of 83 texts a day, every day, over the course of four months. Does he do anything else in the offseason besides write texts? His thumbs must really hurt. I just looked in my phone and I sent 8 texts yesterday. What, is the guy 14 years old?
--- As I’ve written and said many times, Bell’s suspension should have been either one or two games, not three. They disciplined him under both the old and new drug policies and that was not fair.
--- For a 10-year veteran, halfback DeAngelo Williams sure does get touchy about softball questions of how much he believes he is going to play this year. We now know he will not start in the third game of the season. And if he thinks he’s going to split time as he did in Carolina, he should look at some game tape of Le’Veon Bell last season. Bell did not need to be spelled last season and he won’t this year either, barring injury and blowout victories.
--- There’s still a good chance the Steelers will face Brady in the opener because all he has to do is sue the league and get an injunction to halt his suspension until the legal proceedings end, which often they never seem to do.
--- I’m not quite sure why the NFLPA is suing the league over this. The union agreed to all the wording in the CBA and Roger Goodell followed the CBA wording to a T. The Steelers players, you might recall, were the only ones among the 32 NFL teams to vote against the new CBA during the 2011 training camp. They did so mainly because it gave Goodell the kind of power he wielded on Tuesday. Do you think Tom Brady urged his teammates to vote for it so there would be no more work stoppage and he could continue to collect those fat paychecks?
--- The NFL sent out a treatise to the media announcing its Brady decision and then explaining what went into it. They sent out nothing on Bell. They never officially announced Bell’s original 3-game suspension and they never officially announced that it was reduced.
--- Another Saint Vincent 50th anniversary camp story:
The Steelers lost Leon Searcy in free agency to the Jacksonville Jaguars early in 1996 and went looking for another right tackle to take his place. They drafted Jamain Stephens of North Carolina A&T in the first round. He was terrible and I drew the ire of Bill Cowher one day when I asked him bluntly if he were a bust. I was correct, and it was proven definitively during the annual run test to open training camp in 1999.
Stephens was terribly out of shape and hardly could run at all that day. He finally just gave up and walked through the rest of the series of 40-yard “dashes” that were left. It wasn’t the first time he had done that during a run test – he once collapsed and lay prone as Greg Lloyd famously waived a towel over him -- but it would be his last. Cowher was so disgusted with the ongoing performance or lack thereof from Stephens that he cut him that night.
Cincinnati picked him up and he played into 2002 for the Bengals before Marvin Lewis, Cowher’s first linebackers coach with the Steelers, cut him in 2003 when he became head coach in Cincinnati.
The Steelers are off today, so another old camp story and then a few of your Ask Ed questions. Chat today at 1:30 p.m. at post-gazette.com/chat. You can send your Ask Ed questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
--- I was chatting with Craig Wolfley at practice yesterday and it reminded me of what he calls the only time he snapped angrily at a reporter. I said I would tell the story and Wolf told me only, “Be kind.’’
In 1986, I spent my first full training camp at Saint Vincent College after making it only for the final several days in 1985, when the Post-Gazette put me on the Steelers beat late. That summer, Wolfley, a starting guard, tore up his knee and there was not much information on it provided by the team – how serious it was, when he would be back, etc.
Steve Hubbard, then in his first year covering the Steelers for the Pittsburgh Press, called Wolfley’s home and talked to his wife. He quoted her in the next day’s paper.
Shortly thereafter, as I walked to lunch I ran into Wolf, who was on crutches. I said hello and he immediately tore into me, up and down. He was so angry I’m surprised he did not try to hit me with one of his crutches.
As he took a breath, I asked him what the heck he was talking about and why he was so angry at me. He stopped, cocked his head and gave me a look. “Aren’t you Steve Hubbard?”
I was more than happy to say no, I was Ed Bouchette. Wolf nearly tripped over his crutches apologizing. He later did find Hubbard and pretty much repeated to him what he had said to me, without the apology. Wolf also never forgot my name after that and we have shared that story many times as he continues to broadcast Steelers games.
An addendum: Yesterday, while chatting with him, Wolf told me he had torn the ACL in his knee that time in 1986 and they gave him two choices: Repair it, which would end his season, or remove it and he probably could play later that year. He told them to yank it out.
Wolf also told me proudly that he returned to play 11 games that season. Again, he was wrong. He only played in nine.
Onto Ask Ed:
--- YOU: Does Art Rooney II have any kids? Just as he was groomed to take over for his dad, who will take over for him? Will it be a non-Rooney? I’m not too familiar with the different investors these days, so I realize the arrangement is different than it used to be.
ED: Art is the third generation to be president of the Steelers after The Chief, his grandfather Art Sr., and his dad Dan, who is currently chairman. The son of Art II, Dan works as a scout for the Steelers. He was a quarterback and is a graduate from Dartmouth and interned in the NFL offices for a few years before joining the Steelers’ scouting department. He is intelligent, grew up around football, knows the game and looks to me to have all the qualifications to succeed his father in the job with more seasoning, if indeed that is how they want to go when that time comes. But don’t be too quick to move Art out. He has quite a few years left in him on the job.
--- YOU: I've noticed that the Steelers seem to have a propensity to use high draft picks on players that lack ideal measurables and/or athleticism. Going back to 2011 when they drafted both Mike Adams and Sean Spence and followed that up in subsequent years with Jarvis Jones, Shamarko Thomas, and Senquez Golden; all of these guys either performed poorly in combine testing or simply lacked ideal measurables for their position. In fact, the Steelers brain-trust even make comments, post selection, on how if "Player X" had run faster, lifted more, been a few inches taller they'd be higher selections. I'm not sure I quite understand the reasoning behind those comments but isn't this a fool's gold philosophy? I'm not sure if the Steelers are out-thinking themselves or if this is a concerted draft philosophy but these kind of athletic/measurable player deficiencies tend to get exposed in today's NFL.
ED: Chuck Noll often said that drafting is not a science. You don’t put everything into a computer and have it spit out a draft pick for you. James Harrison went undrafted because he did not have many of those “measurables” and Brett Keisel nearly went undrafted as a seventh-round pick. Mike Adams had the measurables, he just got caught smoking weed or he might have been someone’s first-round draft pick. Shamarko Thomas was a fourth-rounder and by then, every team is making some kind of concession over the ideal draft pick, whether it be measurables or those that cannot be measured.
You should broaden your scope and not just pick on a handful of Steelers draft choices. All teams are forced to draft players who are not ideal in one way or another. You don’t like Ryan Shazier’s size at just 6-1? How do you like his 4.38 time in the 40, which would place him among the faster wide receivers in the league, never mind the fastest linebacker? Sean Spence, who is only 5-11, looked like a great third-round draft pick before he tore his knee up in the final preseason game of his rookie year. I also thought he played well last season in his first time back from that injury. Mike Singletary stood just 6 feet and was drafted in the second round by the Bears. I supposed you would have knocked them for that. Jack Lambert was so skinny, some thought he’d break down and could not play middle linebacker when the Steelers drafted him in the second nround. Both are in the Hall of Fame.
As for the Steelers draft philosophy, more teams would love to have it based on their success through the years.
--- YOU: Would the Steelers not have been wise to pick up La'el Collins in the final round of this year's draft? They could have picked up a player with a first round grade with their seventh round pick. More importantly, with Kelvin Beachum likely to test free agency after this season they could have had an economical replacement waiting in the wings. I know there was a lot of concern about Collins but that has passed and so did the chance to take a flyer on a first round talent.
ED: I suppose but they were not the only ones to pass on him in the draft. All 32 teams gave him the cold shoulder, including the Dallas Cowboys, who ultimately signed him after the draft to a three-year deal.
Welcome to Day 2 of Steelers training camp. One more unpadded practice in helmets and shorts before the real evaluating begins. Head coach Mike Tomlin is not big on evaluating football players in shorts, and for that reason, Wednesday starts the process for several of the younger players who hope to make the team this summer.
I wrote about one of those players today. Alejandro Villanueva is going to have plenty of opportunities over the next month to show the coaches what he can do. With top reserve Mike Adams rehabbing a back injury for four weeks it’s Villanueva who will get the first opportunity for extended playing time in his place.
This is an important summer for Villanueva, who spent last season on the practice squad. He has never played in an NFL game and turns 27 in September. The Steelers like what they have seen from him over the past year he’s been in their program, but teams don’t usually spend a lot of time on players in their mid- to late-20s unless they prove they are capable of contributing.
For that reason, the next four weeks are the most important ones of Villanueva’s professional football career.
This is his first camp with the Steelers. He joined the practice squad after the final cuts were made last year after playing for the Eagles during the preseason. To this point there has been little opportunity for him to truly show the coaches what he can do on a consistent basis.
Under the 2011 collective bargaining agreement NFL teams are allowed only 14 padded practices during the regular season. That’s it. Villanueva will get that and thensome this summer.
Don’t be surprised if Villanueva is a camp darling. Last fall, during those infrequent padded practices, the coaches would have the second-stringers compete in blocking drills at the end of practice after the starters had taken their competitive reps. Villanueva more than held his own and in one memorable practice dominated second-round pick Stephon Tuitt, who a short time later would become a starter.
Villanueva is looking forward to his first opportunity compete as an offensive lineman in a game. That will come against the Vikings Aug. 9 in the Hall of Fame Game.
“Once you put on pads and it’s a game environment then I can evaluate where I am in my game and see what I have to focus on,” he said. “And make a case for the roster.”
Here are some additional quotes from Villanueva that did not make it into my story this morning:
On Adams being out: “I don’t think it matters. I’m not competing against one guy. I’m competing against everyone else in the league right now. Whether they drafted a guy in the first round or didn’t draft a guy at all I thought it was up to me to make the team and contribute. For me, I just have to work really hard on my skills and not worry about who’s available, who’s healthy and who’s not.”
On his leading the linemen in the conditioning run: “I was fortunate to train in Spain, where family is [earlier this summer] where it’s pretty hot as well. Distance is never a problem for me. When you’re in the army you have to run a lot longer than football. The favorite run in the army is the five-mile run.”
On carrying close to 340 pounds: “I feel good with the weight. For me, it’s the explosiveness and short distance. I feel good with my physical conditioning. The mental aspect will be more important.”
The first training camp of the summer did not look at whole lot different from any of the dozen or so practices the Steelers had this spring during OTAs and minicamp. In fact, it wasn’t different at all.
Since the newest collective bargaining agreement was ratified by the players in 2011 teams must put players through an acclimation period of two practices before graduating to padded practices. The Steelers will practice in shorts and helmets again tomorrow, will have a scheduled day off Tuesday before donning the pads for the first time on Wednesday.
“I just want to establish a good foundation of how we work,” head coach Mike Tomlin said. “We have to establish a good foundation of how we work, a level of expectation of what we’re looking for. I thought it was a good start.”
The Steelers picked up where they left off in the spring with an emphasis on the goal line offense and defense. Once again, there was a competitive period to begin practice that featured one touchdown pass to Heath Miller but also two interceptions from the defense.
“We realize on both sides of the ball that’s a significant space and a significant down,” Tomlin said. “It’s been good work. Hopefully, it’s competitive. The defense will win some, the offense will win some. I think the defense won the majority of them today.”
A couple of other notes from practice:
*It was only the first day of camp, but Cortez Allen had a hard time matching up against the Steelers’ top two receivers. Antonio Brown burned him on sideline route and Martavis Bryant turned a short pass into a long gain when he made a nice move on him.
*Converted quarterbacks Devin Gardner and Tyler Murphy continued to take some snaps at quarterback. The former college quarterbacks switched to receiver in the spring but also took some snaps from center. Tomlin said that will continue during camp.
“We’re going to move those guys back and forth between quarterback and receiver,” he said. “We’ll find a rhythm there. We’ll give them an opportunity to show what they’re capable of at both spots.”
*In addition to the five players on the PUP list, Tomlin held out veterans James Harrison and Will Allen.
“I’m going to protect him from himself,” Tomlin said of Harrison, who is entering his 13th NFL season. “He and Will Allen are too old to be working right now.”
*After Ben Roethlisberger told Ed Bouchette on Sunday that the goal this season was to average 30 points per game, Tomlin was asked about it.
“I just want to see one more than our opponent,” he said. “So whatever that entails. I don’t worry about the style points. I’ll let you and Ben sort that out.”
A few more training camp stories from the past before we move on to the present on this 50th anniversary of the Steelers’ summers at Saint Vincent College:
--- Bill Cowher often has said he welcomed the newspaper strike in Pittsburgh in 1992 because it took some pressure off him and his team in his first season as Steelers coach. I like to think I still found ways to add to that pressure.
It did not take long either. One day in that training camp of 1992, I saw star inside linebacker Hardy Nickerson walking on campus with a wrap on one hand. He told me he had a broken bone, but that he would still practice and play.
The Post-Gazette may have been down but we weren’t out. We wrote stuff that the paper put out as faxes to all kinds of people, especially radio and TV outlets and the Associated Press. (The Pittsburgh Press went on strike, which stopped the PG from printing because they shared the same union pressmen, etc., who were on strike).
So I reported in that PG fax what I knew about Nickerson’s injury and word spread quickly. Cowher was incensed and the next day he chewed me out for putting Nickerson “in danger” because opponents now would target the linebacker’s hand! Never mind that everyone who saw the open practices at camp could see Nickerson’s bandaged hand and figure it out for themselves.
I believed Cowher was being too paranoid, or maybe he was just trying to put the media in its place early-on as head coach. It did not work. I told Cowher I thought it was ridiculous for a guard or tackle to try to go after Nickerson’s wounded hand. He told me I was naïve.
Nickerson went on to have a great 1992 season and then left in the NFL’s first true free agent class to join Tampa Bay.
--- Also in Cowher’s first camp with the Steelers, one of the Saint Vincent security guards pointed out to us that there was a small, undetectable camera lens over the doorway at Bonaventure Hall that monitored the goings and comings of everyone, including whether players were violating curfew.
Today, that news would not be surprising, but this was 1992 and there were still concerns about Big Brother. I thought little of it at the time, other than to make sure my hair was straight as I passed through the doorway. Rick Starr of the Valley News Dispatch, however, wrote it with all the Big Brother implications and all and virtually accused Cowher and the Steelers of violating everyone’s privacy.
Oh, did Cowher rip into Starr, making my Nickerson debate with him sound like afternoon tea in comparison. Cowher told the writer it was Saint Vincent that had installed the cameras for their own use, not the Steelers. Harrumph!
--- Chuck Noll steadfastly refused to allow the shotgun formation to be used at training camp, he was stubborn about it even though the shotgun was becoming popular in the league in the ‘80s and his quarterbacks would have liked to use it, especially once Bubby Brister arrived.
Jack Lambert, not long after his retirement following the 1984 season, joined one of the local TV stations as a commentator. One of his first reports at training camp was providing inside info that Noll finally would unveil the shotgun formation at Saint Vincent. Noll never did so either that summer or that season.
A few camps later, the Saint Vincent campus was invaded by skunks with distemper. Whenever one was spotted, a call went out either to the game commission or the state troopers, who would arrive and shoot it dead.
One afternoon while we were watching practice, someone noted that another skunk was shot that morning on the edge of the practice field with a .22 rifle.
“Why didn’t they use a shotgun?” I asked, figuring that weapon would have made it easier to hit the target.
Jim Kriek, the longtime sports editor of the Connellsville Courier with a wonderfully wry sense of humor, did not hesitate and replied, “Because Chuck won’t allow the shotgun in training camp!”
--- In the second half of the 1990s as the Steelers were trying to get a new stadium, they had some dispute about the land around it or who would develop the land, etc. The Steelers wanted to do something and Mayor Tom Murphy had other ideas.
Anyway, during that dispute I was watching a camp practice on the sideline with Dan Rooney. A football was kicked into the crowd on the hillside and the gent who caught it did not throw it back (I think he had children with him). A ballboy went into the crowd, reclaimed the football and returned it to the field to a smattering of boos from the fans.
Bill Cowher stopped practice, grabbed the football and climbed the hill to deliver it back to the fan who had caught it. The place erupted in cheers and Dan Rooney told me Cowher was so popular that he could beat “Smurphy” in a race for Pittsburgh mayor. Oooh, that was good in so many ways, including the fact that Tom Murphy was not a tall man.
I asked Dan Rooney if he meant what he said and that I’d like to write it. He told me to go ahead. I did and it naturally received plenty of attention.
The bottom line, though, was that Mayor Tom Murphy, in office until 2006, would became an important political ally to the Steelers in their ultimately successful attempts to build Heinz Field.
--- Merril Hoge, who is here in Latrobe this weekend with an ESPN crew that will broadcast from camp Monday, was one of the Steelers “stars” during a down time in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s under Chuck Noll. The Steelers were supposed to play a preseason game in Ireland in 1990 but after a lack of support for the game, it was switched to Montreal against the New England Patriots.
That June, the Steelers sent some representatives to Montreal to promote the game. One of those chosen to go was Hoge. This was in the easy days of flying, when you could even use a ticket under someone else’s name to fly in this country – but not internationally.
I had heard the ensuing story about what happened when Hoge arrived at the airport but I waited until training camp that summer to see if he would confirm it for me. He did and I wound up writing it. Here’s what happened:
Hoge arrived at the airport and when he checked in, they asked for his driver’s license. He said he did not bring it with him and why was that a problem. He was told while he did not need a license to fly in the U.S., he needed one to fly internationally.
Hoge said he was going to Montreal, and isn’t that in the U.S.?