Labriola On

On Roger getting it right, rookie minicamp

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Ready or not, here it comes:

  • Roger got it right this time?
  • NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did get it right this time, in my opinion. For the most part, anyway. And just so we're all on the same page, I'm not buying that the punishments levied against the NFL's marquee player and one of its highest-profile franchises were determined in a vacuum by Troy Vincent.
  • Just to recap, the NFL suspended Tom Brady for four games, fined the Patriots $1 million, and stripped the team of a No. 1 draft choice in 2016 and a No. 4 draft choice in 2017. Harsh, to be sure, but in keeping with the severity of the crime, and in this case the crime is not deflating some footballs, but rather an attack on the integrity of the sport.
  • The public must believe that the games the NFL presents are fair. The rules the same for both teams, the equipment consistent. Any exposure to weather has to be the same. Access to electronic equipment, and the communications using that equipment – all of it is regulated and governed by rules. Professional football is a billion-dollar industry, and it cannot afford to allow any doubt to germinate within the general public that its product isn't on the up-and-up.
  • Within this decade, the Patriots have been convicted twice now for violations of the integrity of the game, and that's why the punishments handed out for Deflategate needed to be severe. Stand before a judge in criminal court having been convicted of a crime with a previous conviction on your record, and you can assume the hammer is going to come down harder the second time.
  • All that said, there is a caveat to this atta-boy being directed at Park Avenue: Too often, the NFL issues discipline that has a built-in give-back option for an expected appeal. Then once the appeal is filed and granted, the punishments are lightened, and there's some meeting in the middle. Kind of similar to buying a car. If that's what is happening here, then Roger didn't get it right this time, either.
    On to some football in shorts. The Steelers completed their rookie minicamp last weekend, and here are some tidbits gleaned from the five on-field sessions conducted during the three days:
  • The first workout was on Friday morning, and it was mind-numbingly basic. But still, during the first seven-on-seven of the weekend, two defensive players got their hands on the football: Senquez Golson broke on one pass and batted it down, and Gerod Holliman tracked an errant deep pass and made an over-the-shoulder interception.
  • Again, I understand how early it still is and that the pads aren't on yet and the physical aspects of the sport haven't been introduced, but I have watched a lot of training camp practices and regular season practices where Steelers defensive backs didn't get hands on two passes in an entire practice, let alone during a single seven-on-seven drill.
  • It's always interesting to look over the group of undrafted rookies signed by the Steelers, and only partly because there always seem to be a few of them with interesting stories in their past. But the real reason for not immediately kissing these guys off as nothing more than cannon fodder is the Steelers' history of giving them real opportunities to make the roster and then make an impact.
  • Since 2001, here is a partial list of some of the Steelers' notable undrafted rookies: Chris Hoke, Keydrick Vincent, James Harrison, Willie Parker, Nate Washington, Greg Warren, Anthony Madison, Darnell Stapleton, Patrick Bailey, Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster, Isaac Redman, and Robert Golden.
  • From the 2015 group, here are a few names to remember while sitting on a hillside during another steamy afternoon at Saint Vincent College: Cameron Clear is a 6-foot-5, 277-pound tight end from Texas A&M, who has the look of a guy who might be able to develop into a tight end capable of handling himself on an NFL line of scrimmage; and Miles Dieffenbach, Reese Dismukes, and B.J. Finney all are interior offensive linemen who could have been draft picks.
  • Dieffenbach was a full-time starter at guard until he tore his ACL in March 2014, and it was the lingering aftermath of the injury that dropped him from being a Saturday afternoon draft pick to the status of rookie free agent. Dismukes had 50 starts at Auburn and was a two-time team captain, and maybe he wasn't drafted for some of the same reasons Legursky wasn't – a bit on the smallish side to handle the Haloti Ngatas of the world who will be lining up on his nose in the NFL. Finney started all 39 games at center from 2012-14 and was a three-time team captain at Kansas State.
  • While it seems as though Clear will have a difficult path to a roster spot, what with Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Rob Blanchflower, and rookie Jesse James in front of him, the three interior offensive linemen seem to have a more friendly depth chart working in their favor.
  • Besides starters Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, and David DeCastro, the returning interior offensive linemen include just Cody Wallace and Chris Hubbard.
  • Speaking of DeCastro, I saw him walking outside the Steelers locker room yesterday along with a teammate who is noticeably bigger in every way. It was Alejandro Villanueva.
  • On most Thursdays between now and the end of the offseason program, offensive line coach Mike Munchak has enlisted former Steelers Pro Bowl tackle Tunch Ilkin to work with his guys on refining the use of their hands. In a legal way, that is, by punching pass rushers in the chest. Back in the day, the Tunch Punch was Ilkin's primary weapon and the main reason why a 260-pound man was able to play 14 seasons at a high level in the NFL.
  • Patriots owner Robert Kraft had said the team would accept whatever penalties were meted out based on the findings of the Wells Report, but since then the team has become much more aggressive in refuting the findings as the proceedings head toward appeal.
  • One of the issues raised by the Patriots is that Wells' law firm has close ties to the NFL and therefore his report is something other than unbiased. As another part of their response, the Patriots offered a rebuttal of the science cited in the Wells Report via Professor Roderick MacKinnon, a 2003 Nobel laureate in chemistry.
  • Without getting overly academic, MacKinnon refuted the science as it was laid out in the Wells Report as it pertained to deflation of footballs in weather, and the Patriots described MacKinnon as someone with "no business or personal relationship with the Patriots" who "offered his scientific expertise to the team" once news of the investigation went public.
  • Noah Gray of Nature magazine subsequently wrote that MacKinnon actually is the "scientific co-founder" and co-chair of the Scientific Advisory Board of a company called Flex Pharma that counts The Kraft Group among its investors.
  • There are many words that can be used to describe the New England Patriots. One of those words is pathological.
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