UNITY TWP. – He just might be the best player to wear No. 73 for the Steelers since Craig Wolfley. Or maybe since Ray Mansfield wore the number his first few years in Pittsburgh.
He’s only a rookie, but he’s impressed his coaches and teammates by virtue of his play at guard and tackle, and defensive end. Some say he could even play nose tackle in a pinch..
“He’s everywhere,” said Aaron Smith. “The guy’s got super powers or something. I mean, he’s all over the field.”
Coaches are impressed but aren’t so sure No. 73 can play both sides of the line once the season starts. That’s because either Ramon Foster or Ra’Shon “Sonny” Harris will be given a new number.
That’s right, No. 73 is being shared by Harris, the defensive lineman, and Foster, the guard/tackle. And both have served the Ol’ Ranger’s number well.
“Yeah, Sonny’s played real well,” said Smith, the veteran defensive end. “To me, he’s the biggest surprise. When you come to camp, you knew Ziggy (Hood) was going to be good. He was the first-round pick and we all knew he had the ability. But Sonny’s played really well. And I really like the way he moves on the field. He doesn’t look like he’s thinking through the process. It’s more instinctive.”
That pretty much described Harris’s first action as a pro. Against the Arizona Cardinals in the preseason opener, Harris had a tackle, half a sack, a quarterback hit and brought consistent pressure. He was the Steelers’ most active lineman that night.
The 6-5, 300-pounder started only one season at Oregon but the Steelers liked his raw skills and drafted him in the sixth round. He was injured early in camp, and frustrated the coaching staff, but since his return has opened some eyes.
“He’s a great kid. I see why his mom calls him Sonny, because he’s got a great smile,” Smith said. “I really like this group of kids we have. They’re all eager to learn and they’re all very humble. They’re all very talented. This is the best group of rookies we’ve had, all three of them. (Steve) McLendon has a ton of ability, too.”
While Harris seems destined for the practice squad, the other No. 73 has become a roster lock. Foster, the undrafted rookie out of Tennessee, had the best second quarter of any of the Steelers’ second-teamers Thursday night. The staff likes him so much that they’ve moved him to tackle this week in the hope he can become a game-day swing player off the bench.
“He gives us that big guy in there who can move a bit,” said line coach Larry Zierlein, who knew coming into camp that Foster would challenge for a roster spot.
“Yeah, there were some expectations for him,” Zierlein said, “but he’s given us a tad more than what I thought he might. It’s early. It remains to be seen whether he can be consistent, but I think he’s got a future.”
The Steelers considered drafting Foster in the seventh round, but passed and still landed him as their priority free agent. Foster wasn’t drafted because of a combine workout in which he ran the 40 in 5.6. Zierlein, though, doesn’t care about his 40 time.
“Well, we won’t give him the ball then,” he said.
NOTES – Coach Mike Tomlin told kicker Piotr Czech that if he made the next kick, a 52-yarder, practice would end. Czech made the kick and sent everyone to dinner 30 minutes early. … Anthony Madison missed practice because of a death in his family. … Frank Summers (groin) and Shaun McDonald (calf) missed practice but are expected back Tuesday. … Tomlin cited the play of Willie Colon and the right side of the line for the offense’s success in Sunday’s goal-line drill.