Labriola On

Labriola on the answer to: 'Who looks good?'

LATROBE, Pa. – Ready or not, here it comes:

  • Yes, it's the same answer, but it's true, and in fairness, the question is the same.

Take a look at photos of the Pittsburgh Steelers' 6th training camp practice.

  • Who's looking good? Ben Roethlisberger.
  • The response most people are looking for when asking that question is some combination of the names of rookies, veteran free agents signed in the previous offseason, and nobodies from nowhere who are trying to make names for themselves in the NFL.
  • That's all fine, and I love a feel-good as much as the next person, but there's nothing wrong when the team's best and most important player is looking as good as Roethlisberger has during the opening few days of Camp 2016. The throws he makes, the accuracy he displays, the way he elevates the offense just by being one of the 11 on the field probably get taken for granted by a bunch of those fans spending a summer afternoon in the stands at Chuck Noll Field.
  • It was rainy and miserable on Saturday, July 31, which was the second of the two mandatory "acclimation days," which is code for more minicamp before the pads go on and the sport begins to be practiced the way it has to be played. The football had to be heavy from the rain, because everything was heavy from the rain. Roethlisberger participated that afternoon, and maybe that was why he was given a maintenance day by Coach Mike Tomlin on Sunday.
  • Sunday, Aug. 1 marked the first hitting of the summer, and the defense enjoyed the better of the competitions for the most part throughout the afternoon session. During backs-on-backers, Tomlin was heard to shout at one point, "Does anyone in a white jersey want to win one of these reps?"
  • The offense is the unit in the white jerseys.
  • Monday, Aug. 2 was a reversal of fortune. When asked about it after the practice, Tomlin smiled and said, "I opened up by saying Ben was (back practicing) today. Sometimes that's got a lot to do with the ebb and flow. That's why I laughed yesterday when you guys suggested that it was the defense's day."
  • One way to gauge what Tomlin refers to as "ebb and flow" could be the day's annual installment of "seven shots." The drill that became a staple on campus here last summer is back, and while it provides a daily dose of competition to both units it also serves as a canvas for Roethlisberger. Sometimes it's accuracy, sometimes a quick and correct decision, sometimes just a difference-making arm that puts the ball in an impossible place for the defense.
  • On Sunday, Landry Jones was the quarterback for "seven shots," and the offense scored just twice. I can hear the whining in the distance already, but Jones had one pass dropped in the end zone, he had his left tackle get beat easily for what would have been a sack, and the offensive line failed to open a hole for Le'Veon Bell on a running play.
  • With Roethlisberger out there on Monday, Aug. 1, in the same drill, the offense was 4-for-4. After a day off, it was more of the same on Wednesday, Aug. 3. Three successes in four snaps, with the only failure being a result of a young guy not being disciplined enough to get a second foot down inbounds in the back of the end zone.
  • This drill every day illustrates clearly that it's just different with Roethlisberger, a visual example of what is meant when it's said about an athlete "that he makes those around him better." And it's free admission, plus free parking. What a deal.
  • One more Roethlisberger item, because standing 10 feet away and watching it happen brought out a range of emotions, from disbelief, to fear, to relief, and then an appreciation for a display of the athleticism that has come to be known as "Ben being Ben."

Take a look back at some of the images from the Steelers' 2015 Friday Night Lights practice.

  • During backs-on-backers, it's usually a ball-boy or an equipment guy who stands in the square as the pretend quarterback. Really, he's nothing but a physical marker, for the defense so as to aim its rush, and for the offense so as to know what space to protect. It's not dangerous, per se, because there is no hitting of the pretend quarterback, never, ever, but the blocker and the rusher are going full speed at each other and stuff happens.
  • Since it was his maintenance day, and he had no other responsibilities, Roethlisberger stepped into the square. Tomlin was right there watching.
  • Understand that every guy in a helmet knew who was standing in the square, but the look Roethlisberger was willing to provide during a drill that mimics a critical element of every NFL game these days – pass protection for the offense vs. pass rush for the defense – is what a good teammate does. Plus, it was a good opportunity for him to be able to drill his own footwork, because the movements he was using will serve him well when the whole point of the rush will be to put him on his butt.
  • Full disclosure, I stopped breathing a couple of times when there were bodies at Roethlisberger's feet, or guys were coming at him as they were going to the ground in their one-on-one competition. But it was impressive to watch him move around in the pocket, slide left or right, forward sometimes, too. Nimble, quick feet. Sometimes a bit of a stiff-arm mixed in so that he never really got touched.
  • And then such relief from the audience when the drill ended and everybody walked away.
  • By the way, here are some other guys who look good at camp so far: Antonio Brown. Le'Veon Bell. Cam Heyward. Ryan Shazier. Stephon Tuitt. Maurkice Pouncey.
  • Camp is one week old, which means there are just about two more weeks to go, and then a couple of more weeks back in Pittsburgh while still going through the preseason process. There will be time for rookies and the no-names, but right now it's enough to appreciate some of the guys who have been difference-makers and will be called upon to be that again.
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