By Teresa Varley
Hines Ward has spent the majority of the OTA's as a spectator and there is one thing that he has picked up on watching, the increased confidence in second-year wide receiver Limas Sweed.
Sweed, who is fighting for the number three receiver spot along with veteran free agent Shaun McDonald and third-round draft pick Mike Wallace, doesn't feel like he ever lost confidence. But he does see what Ward sees.
"I am more confident, more comfortable," said Sweed. "I have always had confidence; it's just been a quiet confidence. I have always believed in myself. It was a learning curve. Now I feel like I have learned most of the offense and now things are coming more naturally. The more natural things come, the more comfortable I feel and the higher my confidence level goes."
The comfort level hasn't come overnight; it didn't come with the start of OTA's. It's been a progression, one that started when the 2008 season ended and Sweed realized that he could be called upon heavily this year with the departure of Nate Washington to the Tennessee Titans.
"It was big for me having time this offseason to work on routes on my own with my coach and some of the players and get a real and true understanding of the offense," said Sweed. "I can see from the first OTA and it hasn't even been a month, I can look at my routes from the first OTA until now and they have improved. If I can come out each day and at the end of each week look at film and see an improvement, I will be fine.
"That's all I am trying to do these OTA's, get a total understanding of the offense and know everything that is going on. If I can see it all in my head, my confidence level is at 100%. If I am at 100%, I am playing lights out."
There isn't anything that the Steelers would like more. Sweed's rookie season was not productive, as he was inactive for the first four games of last season and then was in uniform against Jacksonville for the first time on Oct. 5, but did not play. After that he saw limited playing time in the next 11 games with only six receptions for 64 yards during the regular season.
Sweed added two receptions against the Ravens in the AFC Championship game when he was called upon after Hines Ward left the game with an injury. But in that game he also missed what could have been a sure touchdown, letting the ball slip through his hands. Now, with the third receiver spot up for grabs, he is hoping that this opportunity doesn't slip through his hands.
"It's open and up for grabs," said Sweed. "I want to play. Obviously I want to play. Anyone in my position would want it. I want to fill that spot and play. I am doing everything in my power, learning everything, putting my time in to be ready when my time comes."
He also realizes that if he does win that coveted role that he will have to be ready at a moment's notice to step in and start if either Hines Ward or Santonio Holmes misses time.
"I would be ready to step in without a doubt, especially getting a feel for it, knowing what to do and getting in with the first group, running routes, getting timing with Ben (Roethlisberger) during OTA's," said Sweed. "I feel I am capable. I feel like I can. Knowing what I know now and feeling as comfortable as I do, if one of the guys goes down I will be ready and more capable than last year."