MOBILE, Ala. – More than 1,000 media were credentialed to cover the Senior Bowl here this week, coming from all over the country.
Among them is a face familiar to Steelers fans. Former Steelers offensive lineman Ramon Foster found his way to Mobile, sitting in the stands watching practices at Hancock Whitney Stadium as part of that media contingent.
Foster now works as a morning show host for 104.5-FM The Zone in Nashville, Tenn., and is here covering the Senior Bowl for that outlet.
Foster's main purpose is covering the Tennessee Titans, but his position allows the longtime Steelers star to keep close track of his former team, as well.
"It was a quick transition for me. I retired in March of 2020. I got a call for a job, it was a sales job, and later that summer, I got the call from the station I work at now, 104.5 The Zone in Nashville," Foster said from the stands at Hancock Whitney Stadium where he watched offensive-defensive line drills closely.
"They were transitioning out of some folks at that time and my name was on their radar. I got into sports media. But it's been fun. I'm going into Year 3 of this new job, this new career and it keeps me in the game. It keeps me up with the Steelers, and I also cover the Titans in Nashville. It's been really cool."
At 37, the Tennessee native and University of Tennessee product has reinvented himself as a rising star in his new chosen field, much the same way the former undrafted rookie lineman scratched and clawed his way to an 11-year-career with the Steelers.
He's worked hard at his new craft, also allowing his natural gift of gab to shine. Foster was a 2015 winner of "The Chief" award, which is given to the member of the organization in appreciation for their work with the media.
Now, Foster finds himself a member of the media.
"I knew I had an interest in it, but to get a prime radio spot, covering an NFL team," Foster said. "I've always been told you have to climb the ladder, claw your way up. To have it right now, I didn't expect it like this. But everything is on time."
Being on time is important in the radio business. For Foster, that means plenty of early mornings. But his playing career got him accustomed to that.
He and his fellow offensive linemen used to be among the first Steelers to arrive at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex each day. He's just carried that over into his post-playing career.
"My career prepared me for this," he said. "We as offensive linemen in my era were grinders. We used to get to the weight room early to get our workout in and get the day started because there wasn't enough time to get everything done. The early mornings aren't an issue for me. It's going to bed early that gets me. That's my adjustment."
Especially when you have teenage sons who are active in sports themselves as Foster does.
"The kids' stuff goes until 9 or 10 o'clock at night sometimes," Foster said. "Then my nights get cut short. Other than that, it's been really cool. For a guy that played the game, it would be insane not to use their knowledge, and that's what I'm trying to do."
The Steelers still ask him to share that knowledge, at times, as well.
Head coach Mike Tomlin asked Foster to hold a question and answer meeting with the team's rookies earlier this year to explain his journey to the NFL that ended with Foster playing in 160 games, 145 of them starts.
He was more than happy to accommodate that request.
"I ended up having a dinner with the rookies. Mr. (Art) Rooney was there, coach Tomlin was there," Foster said. "I communicated with them for a little while, exchanged some stories. It's been really cool. My involvement is still within the Steelers organization, at a minimum, but I still have ties. That's been good, too. I went up for the University of Tennessee-Pitt game this year, and that was my first time back in the building. It was surreal. As a former player, it was cool to know you have a home you belong to."
It gave him an appreciation for the many times he saw veterans stopping by training camp or practices during his playing days.
The Steelers always keep that door open.
"To be at one place for so long, to make that place my home, my kids were born there, raised there, the appreciation of being a part of that organization was cool for me," Foster said. "I'm thankful for it for sure."
And always watching. Foster liked what he saw of the growth of the Steelers during the 2022 season.
But for obvious reasons, he focuses on what's happening in the trenches.
"I'm on the fan side, but I'm definitely critiquing," he said of watching games. "But I'm trying not to be that back-in-my-day guy. I don't want to be that dude. I want to call it as it is, like I am with this o-line versus d-line (drill) right now."
FINISHING WITH A FLOURISH: Stanford cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly finished off the team portion of the National Team practice Wednesday by stepping in front of a pass intended for wide receiver Elijah Higgins and returning it 40 yards for a touchdown, much to the pleasure of his defensive teammates.
Kelly is the son of former NFL cornerback Brian Kelly, who spent 10 seasons with the Buccaneers and one with the Lions. His position coach for much of his playing career was Mike Tomlin.
The younger Kelly (6-foot, 193 pounds) was a four-year starter at Stanford, where he intercepted three passes and had 23 career pass breakups. He is widely considered a Day 2 draft prospect.
MOVING AROUND: North Dakota offensive lineman Cody Mauch is an offensive tackle by trade. Wednesday morning, Mauch said the coaching staff for the National Team asked him to bump inside to guard and even center to test his versatility this week.
Mauch, who measured in just a shade under 6-foot-5 and 307 pounds, has managed the move well.
""There were some things I've got to work on, but for one of the first times at guard, especially in a competitive setting, there's a lot to hang your hat on," Mauch said.
CENTERING IN: Minnesota center John Michael Schmitz is considered by most analysts to be the top center prospect in this draft, and Wednesday, he showed why.
During the American Team practice, a screen pass was thrown during 11-on-11 work to the right flat. Schmitz suddenly appeared as if shot out of a canon to spring Tulane running back Tyjae Speers for a touchdown.
Schmitz, who weighed in at 307 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame, also has more than held his own in one-on-one blocking drills.