Labriola On

Labriola on preseason game No. 2

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Ready or not, here it comes:

  • There is another preseason game tonight for the Steelers, here in Jacksonville, and while it's scheduled to include appearances by many more members of the varsity, there still is going to be very little to take from what happens in Everbank Stadium that's going to mean a whole lot come Sept. 10 in New England.

The Pittsburgh Steelers put in their last day of practice before heading to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars in Week 1 of the preseason.

  • Except the injury report.
  • To paraphrase Coach Norman Dale from "Hoosiers," "At the end of this game, if there are no names on our injury report, I don't care what the scoreboard says. We're winners."
  • That has come to be reality in the NFL. Training camp and the preseason provide the opening battles in the war of attrition that is a 17-week regular season, and a team's profile can change dramatically from the opening of its training camp until the end of its preseason based on how many debilitating injuries the roster has had to absorb.
  • So the real way to keep score this preseason: instead of seeing the Steelers as 0-1 following the Hall of Fame Game vs. the Vikings, see them as down one reliable veteran placekicker and one running back who was doing enough on the practice fields of Saint Vincent College to deserve better than this.
  • Running back Cameron Stingily deserved to make his NFL preseason debut on a legitimate NFL playing surface, and what was on the floor of Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium was certainly not that. Before the game, stadium workers walked the field carrying large buckets, and they were reaching into those buckets and tossing handfuls of the content across the surface, as if seeding the grass. Only, the surface there wasn't grass. It was 11-year old FieldTurf, having been installed in 2004. Were they "seeding" fake grass with ground up tires?
  • Maybe Stingily wasn't going to crack the 53-man roster, but he was a tough, dependable back who took a lot of repetitions and provided good competition for the first-team defense just about every afternoon for three weeks. A good team guy. He deserved better than that.
  • The Steelers signed Garrett Hartley after Shaun Suisham tore his left ACL on the second half kickoff last Sunday night in Canton, and all that really means today is Hartley gets the first opportunity to be the Steelers' placekicker in 2015. He was said to be the best in every category of the tryout the team held at Heinz Field on Aug. 11, and the Steelers enter into this hoping for Hartley to succeed, and they are committed to helping him along the way.
  • But this marriage could end in a quickie divorce if Hartley starts missing 26-yard field goal attempts, as he did late in 2013 when the Saints cut him. And in that factoid lies the real significance of the loss of Suisham to this Steelers team. Over the past three seasons, Suisham was successful on 96.6 percent of his field goal attempts from 20-49 yards.
  • Read that last sentence again – 96.6 percent. Settling for field goals instead of touchdowns is a way to lose football games, but there are situations when a field goal is either a boost or a necessity based on the numbers on the scoreboard. The distance from 20-49 yards is where NFL kickers make their money, and the really good ones are money from 40-49 yards. In the last three seasons, Suisham had been 29-for-29 from 40-49 yards.
  • Which in a twisted way is why Suisham deserves some responsibility for his season-ending injury. In a preseason game, the first of five preseason games, there is ABSOLUTELY no reason for the proven veteran kicker to involve himself with any of the young, inexperienced, do-anything-to-make-the-roster guys. Sure, I understand the whole "kickers are football players, too" mentality, but this wasn't M&T Bank Stadium on Dec. 27. Poor professional judgment. A real shame, and a significant loss.
  • Regularly during the practices at Saint Vincent College, outside linebackers coach Joey Porter can be heard telling his group that sacking the quarterback requires more than one move. Sometimes speed, sometimes power, sometimes a swim, sometimes a club. Porter tells his players they have to establish it all. During the Hall of Fame Game, Bud Dupree  was working on what he was taught.
  • Dupree didn't get a sack, but he worked the techniques. Tried a spin move. The next play, came back with a bull rush. Young players often forget everything they've been taught when they get into a game, but in his first NFL competition, Bud Dupree was allowing himself to be coached. He will be a contributor sooner rather than later if he keeps that up.
  • Not to obsess about this Suisham injury, but Ben Roethlisberger might be getting more chances on fourth-and-short inside the opponent's 35-yard line than he would have with Suisham as n option. Not having Suisham could be seen as a reason to go for more two-point conversions, but it's more likely a reason to go for more fourth-and-2s from the opponent's 28-yard line.
  • With seven seconds left in the first half in Canton, the Vikings were punting from their 10-yard line. Jeff Locke was standing in his end zone, and Mike Tomlin and Danny Smith saw a great opportunity. Not for a block, or a return. But for a fair catch kick, what used to be known as a free kick.
  • "I've been hunting that a long time in my career, and Danny Smith has, too," said Tomlin, smiling. "Neither one of us has had an opportunity to get it. We chase it. It's just an obscure opportunity that we're probably the only ones who care about it. It just hasn't transpired for us yet."
  • A fair catch kick is awarded to a team only after it executes a fair catch of a punt. At that point it's an untimed down where the team making the fair catch has an opportunity to attempt a field goal from that spot. No rush. No snap. Not 8 yards back. Just the holder and the placekicker. His approach can be as long as it would be on a kickoff.
  • The last successful fair catch kick in the NFL was turned in by San Diego's Ray Wersching, who made a 45-yard attempt against the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 21, 1976.
  • Alas, the Tomlin/Smith plan went bust when Dri Archer muffed the fair catch.
  • Wonder if referee Carl Cheffers knew that rule? Tomlin and Smith were planning to find out.
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