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Injury May End Steelers Camp 'Sleeper' Bid

By Ed Bouchette
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 5 years ago

Good morning,

Stuff from training camp:

--- The foot injury to rookie receiver Eli Rogers Monday may have cut short a sleeper possibility at Saint Vincent. Rogers, undrafted from Louisville, was trying to make the club as a slot receiver and punt returner. He caught the eye of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throughout the spring and at the start of camp.

“Eli, the little slot guy we got from Louisiville, I think he’s going to be good for us, I really do,’’ Roethlisberger said. “I think he’s going to be a little bit of a sleeper.”

--- Antonio Brown will not return punts Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings in Canton, but it’s a good bet he will return them Sept. 10 against the New England Patriots in Foxborough. The Steelers will trot out all kinds of candidates to return punts over the next five weeks with every intention to keep Brown in the job unless someone else shows an above-average ability to do the job.

--- Brown also wants to return punts, which is sometimes half the battle. He is unusual in that when the Steelers have found some excellent punt returners in the past, they often gave up that job once they settled into becoming starters at their positions. That was the case for Lynn Swann, Louis Lipps and Rod Woodson.

--- Quarterback Landry Jones had an excellent practice on Monday as he continues to improve his play at camp at the end of the week. It looks as though he will start against the Vikings Sunday and Roethlisberger will not play. If so, it will be one huge game for Jones, who has not dressed for a game since the Steelers drafted him in the fourth round in 2013. He can ease some anxiety for the coaches and front office, too, if he continues to practice the way he did on Monday as veteran backup Bruce Gradkowski continues to watch from the sideline with “arm fatigue.’’

--- Mike Tomlin is doing precisely what needs to be done with 37-year-old linebacker James Harrison. Nothing. He has not practiced yet and there is absolutely no reason for him to do so. The Steelers did not sign him until after the third game last season and he quickly go up to snuff to where he was their best outside linebacker. Resting him now should ease the concerns of worry warts who did not think the Steelers should sign him for training camp because he was too old and might burn out too soon from the rigors of camp.

--- The Steelers are talking with agent Roosevelt Barnes about a contract extension for left tackle Kelvin Beachum. Whether they can reach a conclusion before Sept. 10 is another matter. One thing they do have, though, is the salary cap space to sign him. According to the NFL Players Association figures, which should be relatively accurate this time of year, the Steelers have $8 million in cap space.

--- There should be little concern about the many frontline Steelers who are listed as “injured” and have missed some practices through the first week or so of camp. With an extra week and five preseason games, Mike Tomlin not only is giving more healthy players days off but the minor injuries at this point are of little concern. The most severe is to rookie cornerback Senquez Golson, who may be lost for the season with a shoulder injury he showed up to training camp with.

--- Jesse James is far and away the best of the new crop of tight ends brought in and should make the 53-man roster along with Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth.

--- As for Miller, what happened on Monday in practice just should not be permitted. I know the 11-on-11 drill midway through afternoon practice was semi-live but Miller broke into the open medium range down the middle, caught a pass from Landry Jones and ran about 20 yards before three players tackled him. It’s a tough game but why risk Miller’s health in a circumstance like that as he enters his 11th NFL season?

--- Plenty has been written about the good first week of practice that rookie Anthony Chickillo had, for good reason. Chickillo, a sixth-round draft choice from Miami, is trying to make the transition from college defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. It is the traditional way the Steelers have found their outside linebackers through the years – until they began drafting them in the first round lately as true outside linebackers in college. Chickillo has said he is not overthinking things and just playing. Let’s see what happens as camp wears on and they start throwing more defenses and responsibilities at him. That is the true test of rookies, many of whom have been camp stars the first week and faded as the summer progressed.

That is not to say it will happen to Chickillo. Better to have a good first week than a poor one and he may just be one of those rookies who continues his play right through the hot days at Saint Vincent and winds up a real find. The 50 years of camp there though is packed with others who did not and made their final drives down Route 30 at the close of camp.