Labriola On

Labriola on Senquez, Bell, Gilbert 'getting it'

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • Two weeks of OTAs are over, and they can be considered a rousing success so far, if for no other reason than the major health news of the fortnight has been the babies born to Ben and Ashley Roethlisberger, and to Landry and Whitney Jones.
  • Well, there also was the MRI that Senquez Golson said he had, but when additional questioning revealed the exam was for what Golson described as a "soft-tissue" injury instead of being on the shoulder he had surgically repaired last August, well, it seemed OK to take a couple of steps away from the panic button.
  • Golson is a guy who is a big part of what the Steelers hope to accomplish in 2016, which can be viewed as unsettling since he has yet to play even one snap of professional tackle football. But it's still true. Golson's injury is what sent the Steelers on that shopping trip last August when they came away with Brandon Boykin in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick, and the team is counting on Golson to develop quickly into a ball-hawking slot cornerback for a pass defense looking to make a big jump from being No. 30 in the NFL in 2015.
  • Soft-tissue injuries are the kinds of strains and sprains that often occur when players aren't quite as highly-conditioned as their job description requires. Nobody on a football team runs more than the receivers and the defensive backs who cover them, and Golson is back at it after a year of inactivity resulting from his time on injured reserve rehabilitating his surgically repaired shoulder.
  • Getting back into competitive running can end up being something of a shock to the body, with muscles suddenly being asked to do things they haven't in a long time. The most important thing for Golson would be to use the time between now and the opening of training camp on July 28 to get his body ready for the amount of competitive running that will be required on the fields at Saint Vincent College.

The best photos of Wide Receiver Maakus Wheaton from the 2015 season thus far.

  • Recently, Ben Roethlisberger said during a media session that he's going to be looking for the wide receivers to "really take the next step, especially the young receiving guys." Falling into that category would be pretty much everybody on the depth chart there except Antonio Brown and Darrius Heyward-Bey, but I'm guessing the guys Roethlisberger had atop his list of "young receiving guys" are Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates.
  • For Wheaton and Coates, the process of stepping up would begin with making the routine plays all the time. What does that mean? Well, Antonio Brown makes the routine plays all the time.
  • That means not dropping the ball, or not securing the catch and having it stripped out by a defensive back, or not running the right route, or not running the route deep enough to be beyond the first-down marker. Wheaton and Coates, and anyone else who has designs on being a wide receiver on the Steelers 53-man roster in 2016, should be most concerned with making the ordinary plays an extraordinary percentage of the time. It has to start there.
  • The Steelers haven't drafted a quarterback since they used their second pick of the fourth round in 2013 on Landry Jones. Before that, it was Ben Roethlisberger in the first round in 2004. That's two quarterbacks picked in the past 13 drafts. By contrast, when the New York Jets selected Christian Hackenberg in the second round of the 2016 draft, he became the ninth quarterback the team has picked in the last 11 years.
  • Remember some years ago when the Minnesota Vikings sat RB Adrian Peterson through the entire preseason? In both the 2012 and the 2013 preseasons, Peterson didn't get a single carry until the regular season openers. In 2012, he finished with 2,097 yards rushing, and in 2013, he finished with 1,266.
  • Keep that in mind this summer when you're not seeing a lot of Le'Veon Bell during the preseason.
  • So often in professional football, there is lamenting over the talented athletes who never blossom as players because "they didn't get it." Those four words – they didn't get it – have come to serve as a code to describe guys who never figured out what was required to become successful professionals. They never figured out what was necessary in terms of conditioning, in terms of the proper diet to complement conditioning, in terms of what's required to take care of your body in order to be able to play a full 16-game regular season, in terms of figuring out that the work day isn't necessarily over just because the horn blew to signal the end of that day's practice.
  • Marcus Gilbert is an example of someone who "got it." Drafted in the second round in 2011 from Florida, there were some concerns early about whether Gilbert was ever going to get it. During his rookie training camp, he missed a lot of practice with what would be considered minor injuries, and there didn't seem to be a real sense of urgency on his part to get himself back onto the field.
  • Through his first couple of seasons, there were some doubts about Gilbert, doubts about whether he would be someone who realized his potential, or whether he would end up joining the list of players who "didn't get it."
  • What specifically turned things around for Gilbert isn't as important as that things got turned around for Gilbert because he turned them around. All of the little things he wasn't doing, or he wasn't doing enough of, or he wasn't doing with the necessary intensity, gradually became strengths. Or at least ceased to be weaknesses.
  • What that means for today is that Marcus Gilbert is a quality starting NFL tackle as he heads towards his sixth professional season. He is a significant piece of an offensive line that has gone from a liability to a team strength as he has matured as a player and a professional.
  • During the run-up to the 2011 draft, the Steelers sought Maurkice Pouncey's opinion on Gilbert, who was Pouncey's teammate at the University of Florida. Pouncey vouched for Gilbert, and the Steelers ended up using a second-round pick on him.
  • Today, based on Gilbert's 2015 season in which he allowed only two sacks in 18 games while shutting out pass rushers the caliber of Kansas City's Justin Houston, Cincinnati's Carlos Dunlap, and Oakland's Khalil Mack in successive weeks, it's safe to say Maurkice Pouncey was right.
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