With a little more than a fortnight to go before the opening of training camp, some morsels to whet the appetite:
- What's expected to be the battle for the No. 3 quarterback job – Landry Jones vs. Brendan Kay – figures to have little impact on the outcome of the 2014 season, but it'll be something to do during the first few days of training camp. Jones, the team's second pick in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, should have a huge edge based on a year's worth of exposure to the offense. It has been said that Jones will succeed or fail in the NFL based on whether he can become the kind of quarterback who gets the job done with recognition/release as opposed to defeating coverages with raw arm strength. His improvement from his rookie training camp to his second might tell a lot about whether he can make it in the NFL.
- Brad Wing is the rookie and Adam Podlesh is the veteran, with one of the two likely to begin the season as the team's punter. The qualifier "likely" is added because neither of last summer's camp competitors – Drew Butler or Brian Moorman – turned out to be the answer in 2013. Young punters with lightning in their legs during practices can be tempting, but does the guy wilt when he's standing with his heels inches from the back of his own end zone?
- Then again, the Steelers won a Super Bowl with Mitch Berger as their punter.
- Antwon Blake ended last season as one of the team's core special teams players, and he should enter 2014 as one of the top gunners in the league. Additionally, throughout the offseason Blake was looking like a guy who could serve as a respectable backup cornerback, which the Steelers need. Another cornerback looking like he could fill a spot as a core teamer is Brice McCain, because through the offseason program McCain (pictured above) was giving off the vibe that he understood the direct route from doing well on special teams to a spot on the 53-man roster.
- Want-to is a big part of being good on special teams. Just ask Fred McAfee about that. Don't recognize the name? Google him.
- Coach Mike Tomlin always looks for significant improvement from the players who will be going into their second NFL seasons. For the record, that list includes Landry Jones, Le'Veon Bell, Markus Wheaton, Derek Moye, David Snow, Nick Williams, Hebron Fangupo, Terence Garvin, Jarvis Jones, Vince Williams, Shamarko Thomas, and Isaiah Green. Some interesting names there.
- There have been a lot of Chuck Noll stories that have surfaced since his death about a month ago, but here's one that isn't told very often: During the 1989 Wild Card Game in the Astrodome against the heavily-favored Houston Oilers, the Steelers found themselves in overtime. Rod Woodson made a great play to strip the ball from RB Lorenzo White and recover the ball to give the Steelers possession, and their offense now faced a third-and-8 from the Houston 33-yard line. As the offense broke the huddle, Noll said to defensive coordinator Rod Rust through his head-set, "If we don't make this, we're going to punt and pin them deep."
Rust answered, "I don't know if we can stop them again."
It was a startling admission by a successful coach in an ultra-competitive business, but it also was an honest assessment, and Rust offered it to Noll at a critical stage where a bigger ego might have gotten in the way. It says as much about Noll that he responded to Rust and sent Gary Anderson onto the field to attempt a 50-yard field goal after that third-down pass fell incomplete. Anderson's kick was down the middle and into the net. Game over.
It has been said that 1989 was the season when Chuck Noll turned in his greatest coaching job, and this is more evidence to support that claim.