By Teresa Varley
Offseason workouts had been over for about half an hour and Limas Sweed was making his way out of the Steelers locker room. At first glance you might think he was heading home like most of his teammates at that point. But that wasn't the case.
Sweed was on his way back to the indoor practice facility to catch passes from Dennis Dixon, a routine that has become commonplace for the young wide receiver over the last few weeks.
"I have been going through routes, getting a better feel for it, catching balls over and over again," said Sweed. "You can never touch the ball enough. It's definitely positive momentum for me."
And that is something that Sweed really needs going into this season, momentum. He was inactive for the first four games of last season and then was in uniform but did not play against Jacksonville. He had only six receptions for 64 yards during the regular season, adding two receptions against the Ravens in the AFC Championship game when he was called upon after Hines Ward left the game with an injury.
Sweed knows there are those out there who have questioned his contributions last year after being selected in the second round. The expectations are always high for top draft picks and when you don't put up big numbers, the critics start to surface. But he doesn't let any of that bother him.
"People may judge. I don't pay attention to critics," said Sweed. "I definitely know that nobody has really seen what I am capable of doing. They haven't seen a glimpse of what I am capable of doing. That's why I started the offseason two weeks early doing what I can to show this team and everybody what I am capable of doing."
One thing Sweed had working against him last year was the talent ahead of him. With Ward and Santonio Holmes starting and Nate Washington a solid third receiver, there weren't a lot of opportunities for Sweed.
"I knew this was an extremely talented team," said Sweed. "Winning the Super Bowl proves that. I wanted to find my place first, whether it was on offense or special teams. I wanted to get in, get into the groove of things, and fill in wherever they needed me to."
This year Sweed has a chance to make an impact and could easily be a player the team needs to depend on. Washington is gone, signing with the Tennessee Titans as an unrestricted free agent, and his spot has not been filled yet. Sweed is hoping he is the one to get the nod there.
"There is definitely a big opportunity to step in and I look at it like that," said Sweed. "I see it as an opportunity to step in and do some great things for this team. I just have to be consistent, catching the ball, and blocking, basically doing what I am capable of doing."
Sweed looks at his rookie year as a learning experience, gaining a wealth of knowledge about the NFL game even if he didn't get as much playing time as he would have liked. He learned about the speed of the game and how much faster it is than college. He got advice from Ward and Holmes, who encouraged him to just be himself, do what he knows he is capable of doing and not to put too much pressure on himself.
"I learned a lot, had a lot of ups and downs," said Sweed. "It made me work harder this offseason. Two or three days after the Super Bowl my mind was already looking to the next season and thinking about the things I am going to do during the offseason to get ready for this season."
So each day, when the offseason program concluded, Sweed continues to focus on different aspects of his game, making sure that when mini-camp and training camp rolls around he is ready to take advantage of the opportunities in front of him.
"I am one of those guys who likes to work on everything," said Sweed. "One day it might be route-running, the next day releasing off the line, catching deep balls. Every day I catch balls. Every day in the offseason I do that. I want to keep working on my craft and try to get better at it. As long as I do what I am capable of doing I will be fine.
"I am taking my time putting the grind work in now. When that time comes I will definitely be ready."