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Labriola on the end of OTAs

Posted Jun 12, 2014

Some observations as the offseason program moves from OTAs to minicamp

OTAs are over, which means minicamp is up next, which means training camp is a month after that, which means the whole process is one step closer to football in pads. Some observations:

* During the annual workout at Heinz Field, Lance Moore made a catch in the corner of the end zone while being double-covered. He caught the ball cleanly, got his feet down, and completed the catch through the contact. The No. 3 receiver job looks to be in good hands.

* One way to judge a player is by what his teammates on the other side of the ball think of him. In talking among themselves about Moore, Steelers defensive backs were comparing him to Hines Ward. As previously stated, the No. 3 receiver job looks to be in good hands.

* Wesley Johnson, the fifth-round pick from Vanderbilt, is on the path to making himself into the perfect bottom-of-the-depth chart guy as a rookie. That might not sound like praise, but a rookie bottom-of-the-depth-chart guy has to be versatile enough to play a bunch of different positions while also having enough talent to develop into something more. Johnson has been playing in a bunch of spots so far, and he doesn’t make stupid mistakes. And bottom-of-the-depth-chart is better than on the practice squad.

* Antwon Blake ended 2013 as one of the better gunners in the league, and he figures to be even better now as he heads into his third NFL season. If Blake can make himself into the kind of coverage specialist that Chidi Iwuoma and Anthony Madison were during their respective tenures with the Steelers, it will go a long way to ensuring his future and strengthening the team in an area where it needs it.

* When you watch Dri Archer’s highlights from his college career at Kent State, he looks very fast. When you watch Dri Archer on the field with the Steelers, he looks very fast. Very fast against Kent State’s competition is one thing, but very fast on a field filled with NFL-caliber players stamps Archer as a weapon-in-waiting.

* Shaquille Richardson is a cornerback with some nice measurables who was drafted on the fifth round by the Steelers this season, just as Terry Hawthorne was a cornerback with some nice measurables who was drafted on the fifth round by the Steelers last season. By all indications, that’s where the similarities end, which is a compliment to Richardson.

* In two of the past five drafts, the Steelers have spent a first-round pick on an offensive lineman. So far, Maurkice Pouncey (Class of 2010) and David DeCastro (Class of 2012) have barely played together. The tally: three full games and part of a fourth in 2012, and a total of eight plays in 2013. Not much of a return on the investment. So far. Expect that to change starting in 2014, because neither one of those guys is injury-prone. Their respective knee injuries both occurred as the result of friendly fire.

* The new contract Pouncey signed that binds him to the team through the 2019 season should be seen as a win/win. If the contract runs its course, the Steelers get an All-Pro center through his 30th birthday, which represents the prime of a lineman’s career, and Pouncey will have earned over $50 million as a professional before he turns 31.

* Ryan Shazier intercepted a pass down the middle of the field that was thrown by Bruce Gradkowski, and after the session the eight-year NFL veteran quarterback said he was absolutely sure he could get the ball over Shazier and to the receiver, that he never had seen an inside linebacker make a play like that.

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