By Teresa Varley
When he made a few nice catches during practice this week at training camp, Limas Sweed drew cheers from the crowd watching on the hills at St. Vincent College.
They aren't the only ones who have been noticing the strides that Sweed has made since his rookie year.
"I said to him the other day, 'Who's that big, pretty guy out there running,' " said offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. "He said, 'Man, this is so much different than last year.' "
Sweed is the first to admit that he had a rocky rookie season, due in part to just learning all of the nuances of a new offense and adjusting to life in the NFL. He said when he first got to training camp he didn't even know where he was. But now, he has settled in just fine.
He is being worked in the slot position for the first time as he battles for the third receiver spot and is making progress each day.
"I just have to work hard, continue over from OTAs,' said Sweed. "I thought I had a positive OTA. Coming out of college I played split end, which Santonio Holmes plays. I moved to the slot, where there is a lot more to learn. Now we are in camp, I am not going to say what is going to happen, but I believe it will be all positive."
Sweed is leaning on the team's veterans for tips on playing the slot and is picking up everything he can.
"I listen to Hines (Ward) and Santonio and other guys who played the slot and learning from those guys. I am a student of the game, always trying to learn and improve. In this offense I could be anywhere. That is part of learning how to play inside and outside."
It's hard to improve on a number one ranking, but linebacker LaMarr Woodley thinks the Steelers defense can do just that.
"I believe we can get better," said Woodley. "We can't be the same defense as last year. We definitely have to improve in all types of areas. Slowing down the run game a little bit more, stopping teams from scoring a little bit more. That's what makes us a better team."
Woodley also feels like he can improve on his own performance from 2008 when he had a breakout season.
"I can improve on everything," said Woodley. "I can put more pressure on the quarterback and get more sacks. Just going out and helping this defense like I helped out last year and just improving in every area."
With Woodley and James Harrison coming after quarterbacks, expect teams to try to do something different this year to slow down their explosive pass rush.
"They'll have to give us different looks," said Woodley. "You've got two guys coming. You've got me and James coming from the outside. And sometimes when we're not putting the pressure on we've got our guys in the middle – Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel putting the pressure on and so it's kind of hard to contain everybody."