´ Steel Curtain Rising: Separating the Information from the Noise @ Steelers OTA's

Who gets the game ball for the Steelers win over the Texans?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Separating the Information from the Noise @ Steelers OTA's

The Pittsburgh Steelers OTA’s might only be “football in shorts” but that doesn’t stop both the professional press and bloggers alike from feeding fodder from these workouts to fill the voracious appetite that Steelers Nation has for its beloved Black and Gold.
  • Note the word “fodder” instead of news, because little of what happens in OTA’s counts as real news. 
In fact, you can breakdown what you hear out of the South Side during OTA’s into three categories:  News that will mean something in September, stories that might mean something in the summer, and stuff that makes for good stories in the spring but is forgotten by the fall.

However, a few developments do offer insight about the future, and here Steel Curtain Rising attempts to aide Steelers Nation in sorting out the information for them noise.

Spence and Heyward Top the “Real OTA” News

Take a look at the video below:



If Mike Tomlin followed Chuck Noll’s policy of practicing without numbers, would you know which of the players running drills was the one whom linebacker’s coach Keith Butler had said it would be a miracle if he played again? The answer is no, you wouldn’t.
  • The first player in the video is Sean Spence of course.
Spence’s return to full time action during OTA’s counts as real news. While it doesn’t mean his comeback is complete, not by a long shot, but it does show that it’s viable. Spence was on the verge of pushing Larry Foote for playing time as a rookie during the 2012 preseason, when he suffered a near catastrophic knee injury.
  • Since then Steelers Nation has been subjected to a diversity of stories on how serious his prospects for a full recovery actually were, but at this point it seems the optimists have the upper had.
Throw Sean Spence into a group with Lawrence Timmons, “sophomores” Terence Garvin and Vince Williams and rookie first round pick Ryan Shazier and in a single year inside linebacker could go from one of the Steelers thinnest positions to its deepest.
  • A lot must happen for that to become reality, but at least it is possible.
The other big piece of news is the decision to move Cameron Heyward from left to right defensive end.

In going from left to right Heyward is moving into the spot that Brett Keisel has occupied for the last 8 years. This shift might only prove to be temporary, but it does show that Tomlin, Dick LeBeau, and Johnny Mitchell are ready to test drive a Steelers defensive line without Keisel.

News that Might Mean Something Come Summer

One name that is turning a lot of heads during OTA’s is that of Justin Brown, the Steelers 6th round draft pick from 2013 who did an apprenticeship on the practice squad.  This could mean something, particularly because players generally (although not universally) make their biggest jump between year’s 1 and 2.
  • Not only have all of the major reporters praised Brown, but the Steelers are letting him run with the first unit. 
The coach’s decision validates what reporters have been saying for weeks. Now, OTA’s are “football in shorts.” Dallas Baker once dazzled during Tomlin’s second stint of OTA’s in 2008, and then didn’t even make the team. Back in 2000, Malcolm Johnson was another second year player who came on strong early, even starting the first pre-season game, only to get cut before the opener.
  • But Brown’s improvement has been steady, tracing back to the final month of 2013, per Dale Lolley. This one bears watching.
Another situation to keep your eye on is Shamarko Thomas’.

shamarko-thomas-workout-offseason-depth-chart-will-allen
Shamarko Thomas' working out in 2014 off season

Thomas is of course the man the Steelers scarified their 2014 third round pick to move up in ’13 in the 4th, a man who Carnell Lake insisted would have gone as a 1st had been 2 inches taller.

Thomas moved immediately into the team’s third down package, until he got hurt. Dallas waived Will Allen, but when Thomas recovered, Allen retained his role. And as OTA’s progress, Allen remains ahead of Thomas on the depth chart at safety.

This could just be Mike Tomlin lighting a fire under Thomas, making it clear he must earn his stripes… Or there could be legitimate issues with his development.

Current “Not Real News Stories” that Might Not Be in that Category Later…

Bloggers, yours truly very much included, love calming bragging rights when events prove their predictions. And yet, there are times when a blogger longs to eat crow, and this is one of them.
  • The Ryan Shazier story is one of those.
The big “News” to open OTA’s is was Ryan Shazier was running with the first team defense.

But the real "news" value of this story must be taken with a grain of salt, as Mike Tomlin never anoints and rarely starts rookies. And trend precedes Tomlin. Kendrell Bell was the last rookie to make an opening day start for the Steelers defense. And unlike Brown and Thomas, there is no “progression from last season trajectory for him to follow.”
  • Making assumptions based on OTA lineup status is tenuous at best, which is why backstories must be examined carefully. 
To wit Kris Farris, 1999 IR/redshirt 3rd round pick and Outland Trophy winner ran with the first team in 2000’s OTA’s and got cut in training camp. More recently, Jonathan Dwyer ran like a stallion in 2010 OTAs, if accounts are reliable, yet showed up at St. Vincents overweight and out of shape and barely made the final cut.
  • Shaizer has no backstory to follow – he’s writing it now.
Jim Wexell reports that Shaizer made a leaping interception that "required all 42 inches of his vertical leap" and has even lined up as a slot corner, which is enough for Wex to pronounce Shaizer as the incumbent starter.

If events vindicate Wexell, Steel Curtain Rising will happily eat the words above.

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