Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Witching Hour ... in the Deep End of the Pool"

Not surprisingly, this year's first round of player cuts produced no major shocks, but a few mild surprises. Linebacker Vic So'oto had showed some good things in camp and during the pre-season games.

What Joey Porter's Pit Bulls liked about So'oto was that he played with leverage, ferocity and velocity -- good traits for a linebacker.  We haven't seen that with consistency in the play of some of the higher-pedigree linebackers remaining on the team, but what do we know?  The coaches are at camp every day ... although coaches routinely make mistakes in evaluating personnel (James Harrison and Mike Vrabel come to mind, and both played with leverage, by the way).

Based on everything we'd read and heard about Brian Arnfelt last year and during the off-season, we thought he had a chance. Again, though, the coaches know what they want.

Same goes for nose tackle Hebron Fanguopo. For some reason, every time his name came up, we would hear the little Myron Cope voice in our head calling him "the dear Hebron Fan-GU-po."  But Daniel McCullers is here, and Joey Porter's Pit Bulls wouldn't be surprised if McCullers is the starter by Game 3 of the regular season.

Remaining position battles that bear watching: 

  • Offensive line: Wesley Johnson vs. Guy Whimper vs. Mike Adams
  • Linebacker: Howard Jones vs. Chris Carter

Summer's Almost Gone
In anticipation of the dreaded annual final preseason game against the so-called Carolina Panthers (ugh), head coach Mike Tomlin invoked a couple of new Tomlinisms: "It's the witching hour," for a lot of players on the bubble, he said, and it's time to throw newly signed Brett Keisel into "the deep end of the pool." Good ones, Mike.

Tomlin also may have tipped his hand a bit by sending kudos the way of wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, whose primary role apparently will be as a gunner on the special teams. Tomlin had this to say about the special teams in general:
“Many of the guys who are fighting to improve their position within the group and carve out roles for themselves at the 11th hour, we’re not talking about defensive backs who are going to play defensive back, or wideouts who are going to play wideout. Usually we’re talking about defensive backs who are going to be gunners or corners in the kicking game. A lot is written and said about how they perform offensively or defensively, but what they do on special teams is going to be a significant element in determining who sticks and who does not.”
About Heyward-Bey, specifically, Tomlin said:

“I’m just as pleased with what he’s provided us from a special teams standpoint as I am what he’s doing at wide receiver. I really like some of the things he’s shown us in the kicking game of late. Some things that quite frankly I didn’t know he had in terms of his willingness and ability to cover punts. His willingness and ability to block for punt returners. It’s attractive and he’ll be given an opportunity to display those things, along with his wide receiver play in this game."

Those words are encouraging for Heyward-Bey; not so much for Justin Brown.

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