Nah, Casey is just fine just the way he is...big. Did you not see him haul ass last year against Cincinnati, returning a fumble thirty-something yards to set up a Steeler touchdown? C’mon now, admit it, the big man can turn it on when he needs to. And while sprinting forty yards in the summer heat is a nice little test, getting through ten of them weighing 320 pounds or better is quite an accomplishment. Taking, at most, two to three minutes to catch your breath, then having at it again, shows a bit of the heart and desire that Casey is known for. Wanting to make up the runs he missed at the end should tell you all you need to know. Fat? Absolutely, though the preferred vernacular would be big-boned. A slacker? Oh, hell no.
Casey Hampton’s running prowess aside, Jerome Bettis will get every one of the 1,198 yards necessary to move past former Pitt and Dallas Cowboys star Tony Dorsett into fifth place on the NFL’s all-time rushing list. Not the starter? Not enough carries? Hogwash. If anything, the past plans of Mike Mularkey and Co. will finally come to fruition -- get Amos Zereoue his touches, and keep the big man fresh. Jerome looks good, no, make that great. Continued health is all we can hope for.
Three to watch
If you’re making the pilgrimage to St. Vincent’s this week, you’ll want to watch these cats, most definitely:
Troy Polamalu -- He’s here; the most prized Steelers rookie of recent memory. So what next? Well, more important than anything is how much burn he gets with the first unit. Certainly he’ll be running with the second team for at least the short term, but Polamalu is a quick study. He’s also the desired starter at strong safety, no matter what Bill Cowher says about Mike Logan. The opportunistic onlooker will also take note of the tandem running behind Logan and starting-for-now free safety Brent Alexander -- Polamalu and second-year Chris Hope. Do they work well together, communicate? Watch closely…you can be sure the coaches will.
Chidi Iwuoma -- Who? That’s what most Steelers fans were asking when Kevin Colbert brought in the former Detroit Lion. But Iwuoma has proven to be a damn good special teams player, the type every team needs at least a few of. In fact, Iwuoma may well be the corner that replaces embattled Hank Poteat this summer. Poteat has picked up where he left off last year, getting burnt the way only he can. Is Chidi any better? Can he hang with the great Hines Ward? Antwaan Randle El? Hmmm…
Joey Porter -- You know, I can’t do a cartwheel never mind a back flip, so I am thoroughly impressed by Porter’s display of sheer athleticism. I’m also very happy he’s on our side. Porter’s contract extension last spring was as good for this team as Jason Gildon’s was bad. Porter is poised for his best season to date and will become a perennial Pro Bowl selection for years to come if there is any justice. Keep an eye on Joey. Is he giving Marvel Smith all he can handle? Is he locked on Amos Zereoue in coverage? Is he stoning “Dan-cake” Dan Kreider at the point? Fine players the lot of them and certainly a good measuring stick.
This week’s camp schedule
Today, July 29th -- Morning Lift (Closed); Afternoon Practice
Wednesday, July 30th -- Shells (Closed); Evening Practice at Latrobe HS
Thursday, July 31st -- Morning Lift (Closed); Afternoon Practice
Friday, August 1st -- Morning Practice (Closed); Afternoon Practice
Saturday, August 2nd -- Afternoon Practice
Sunday, August 3rd -- Players Day Off
Monday, August 4th -- Morning Practice (Closed); Afternoon Practice
Tuesday, August 5th -- Morning Lift (Closed); Afternoon Practice
Football is here, and it only gets better. In little more than a week the Steelers will open the 2003 preseason against Detroit. We’ll get our first glance at a team that may well be the best in the conference, if not the league. We’ll see what kind of hitter Polamalu is. We’ll see Alonzo Jackson’s progress as he transitions to outside linebacker. We may even see a little of Kendrell Bell in his new role as a rover.
As with any early preseason game, the starters will be back on the bench before you can open your second beer. Tommy Maddox? Maybe a quarter. Bell? Maybe a bit more. Who really wants to watch Jimond Pugh block for Dante Brown anyway? Or, gulp, Poteat as a starting corner? Oh, the horror!
Maybe that should have been here. Ugly indeed. Sad is the fact that some guy may flash, may show a little something-something, only to be cut a couple of weeks from now. Cold business, this pro football. Buck up, Steeler fans, no room for this nonsense; we’ve got a championship on the line.
Am I nuts? Do I really do it now, four freaking practices into training camp? Before the team has shown its mettle in a meaningless scrimmage, er, preseason game. Damn skippy. What better time than now to reveal what has burned in my heart since May? Before the injuries pile up around the league, before the picture begins to clear, yes, now is just perfect. You want a prediction? Here you go:
This team will again sweep the AFC North and finish no worse than 12-4 overall. They’ll do it with a smothering defense and a juggernaut of an offense. And they’ll do it with a Hall-of-Fame running back and a spittle-spraying coach equally determined to quiet their critics.
Long Live Casey Butt.
Another defensive back of note may become available, and he, like Chris Kern, is injured. The San Francisco 49ers may waive or reach an injury settlement with 2002 fourth-round safety Kevin Curtis. The 6-1, 212-pound Curtis was selected one pick earlier than the Steelers Larry Foote, and was an aggressive run defender for Texas Tech. Curtis missed the entire 2002 season with torn ligaments in his knee, and may be worth a look if the long-term prognosis is encouraging. Again, the Steelers will need depth next season, and Curtis can offer that, even if he is unavailable this year.
The Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens are playing hardball with their 2003 draft class, making take-it-or-leave-it offers to safety Mike Doss and cornerback Donald Strickland, and linebacker Terrell Suggs and quarterback Kyle Boller, respectively. Each is expected to shore up areas of concern. For playoff teams? Maybe, maybe not.
Let this one marinate …
The passing this week of entertainer supreme Bob Hope, an icon throughout my childhood, had me focusing once again on just how fragile life can be. That was before last night, when I learned my oldest son’s youth football coach spent the last two weeks recovering from a severe and sudden heart attack. Cherish each blessed day, Steeler fans. Love your God, your spouse, your children, and your team. And for Pete’s sake, love one another.