LATROBE, Pa. – A quick glimpse at what we've been seeing and what we've been hearing as the Steelers get ready for their annual sojourn to Latrobe Memorial Stadium for what Mike Tomlin likes to call "Friday Night Lights:"
- Optimism abounds, or so it seems, based on the changes the Steelers have made since last season and the progress and potential the new players had flashed in the offseason. But linebackers coach Keith Butler has never been one to put too much stock in optimism.
"Everybody's always optimistic every year," Butler said. "Every year we're optimistic. We're probably faster than we've ever been, probably, from what I've seen, so it gives us some optimism with that. But until we start playing some other people and until it starts counting, until we can hopefully stay away from injuries the first four games, then that's probably when you know what kind of team you have.
"We have to definitely start faster than we did last year (0-4). We can't afford to do that."
- The quarterbacks spent some pre-practice time warming up by trying to throw a football into a garbage can the other day, as has been their habit at Saint Vincent College.
Ben Roethlisberger accomplished the feat and acknowledged the cheers that followed.
It brought to mind an observation the great Bill Nunn once made upon seeing the practice first incorporated by then-offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride:
"All you get good at when you practice throwing a ball into a garbage can is throwing a ball into a garbage can."
- Tomlin acknowledged an encouraging "ebb and flow" after the second practice in pads. That's been apparent in a number of instances and occurrences.
Nowhere has it been more obvious than when running back LeGarrette Blount and linebacker Ryan Shazier get together.
Shazier repeatedly got the better of Blount in backs-on-backers. Blount responded the next day the pads came on with a stiff-arm that helped produce a big-play run during an 11-on-11 tackling drill.
The coaches, as always, are keeping score. The players might be, too.
- Shortly after a draft in which the Steelers didn't target cornerbacks to the satisfaction of a segment of their fan base, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and defensive backs coach Carnell Lake expressed optimism that there might be untapped cornerback potential already in the building.
Watching Antwon Blake repeatedly run with Antonio Brown, it's becoming a little easier to appreciate where LeBeau and Lake were coming from.
- Steelers President Art Rooney II shed some light on the conundrum the organization faced while contemplating whether to retire Joe Greene's No. 75 jersey.
"If we started down this road," said Rooney, "where do you stop?"
It's a legitimate question, but it's also one the organization has apparently subtly if not definitively already answered.
No one has worn No. 75 since Greene retired after the 1981 season. The same can be said for No. 12 (since Terry Bradshaw in 1983), No. 32 (since Franco Harris in 1983), No. 52 (since Mike Webster in 1989), No. 58 (since Jack Lambert in 1984) and No. 63 (since Dermontti Dawson in 2000).
Jack Ham's No. 59 was worn by Todd Seabaugh in 1984 but hasn't been seen since. Five other Hall-of-Fame players who spent all or the majority of their careers with the Steelers have seen their numbers put back into circulation.
Tight end Michael Palmer is wearing John Stallworth's No. 82 at present and running back Le'Veon Bell is currently in possession of Rod Woodson's No. 26.