Pat Kirwan recently visited Steelers camp in Latrobe, Pa. Here's what he saw.
1. Ben Roethlisberger has never looked in better shape. Every year I watch him scramble around the field in the night scrimmage at Latrobe High School, making plays and exciting the fans. Not this year, though, as Roethlisberger consistently stayed in the pocket and drilled receivers with a much quicker and improved release. In the first real two-minute drill of the year against most of the Steelers' first defense, Roethlisberger marched the offense down the field the same way he did to win the Super Bowl against the Cardinals.
3. The door is wide open for second-year wide receiver Antonio Brown to shine. Hines Ward hasn't practiced yet and Emmanuel Sanders is recovering from foot surgery, and Brown is taking full advantage of his opportunity. I sat down with Brown on my visit, and I was very impressed with his humble approach and knowledge of the game. He looked almost as fast as Mike Wallace at the scrimmage, driving his route stems deep and catching the ball with ease.
4. The Steelers have expectations for Jason Worilds. The backup outside linebacker to James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, Worilds has "to keep pushing to improve. He's a good player but his game has to take the next step," according to a member of the Steelers organization.
5. It sure looks like wide receiver Arnaz Battle is ahead of Limas Sweed for the fifth wide receiver spot.
New guys to watch
1. Seventh-round pick Baron Batch, a running back, blocked Harrison well in a blitz pick-up drill and got the attention of the coaches. During the team scrimmage Friday night, Batch blocked every blitzing linebacker extremely well, plus showed running ability and route-running ability.
2. First-round pick Cameron Heyward might not break into the lineup right away at defensive end, but he is impressive. Heyward was in a very similar system at Ohio State that used much of the same terminology. That knowledge shows up in his ability to play fast this early in camp.
General manager Kevin Colbert on Harrison's back surgeries: "We're not worried about James, not the way he prepares. We'll be smart with him this summer. He does like to take every rep in practice, but he realizes he has to be smart."
The Steelers return all 22 starters from last season and are loaded with quality backups. They practice like they had a full complement of mini-camps and organized team activities. There's no reason this team can't win the division and focus its sights on a trip to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl. The head coach, coordinators and assistant coaches also all return, giving them the ideal combination to deal with a lockout-shortened preseason.