Camp Analysis: Looking At The First Few Days

After what felt like the longest offseason in Steelers’ history, it’s great to have actual on-field action to analyze again. Here’s a look at some of the news from the first few days of camp.

1) Maurkice Pouncey looks like a stud at center.

It’s almost hard to remember it now, but the Steelers were known for 30 years for having the best centers in the game. Mike Webster and Dermontti Dawson rank among the top five centers of all time while Jeff Hartings was a Pro Bowler. If you are looking for an explanation of the offensive line’s problems over the past three years, Hartings’ retirement is as big a factor as any. Sean Mahan, the Steelers’ starter in 2007, was arguably the worst center in the league (he was a disaster in run blocking and gave up 6.5 sacks). His replacement, Justin Hartwig, has been below average, especially as a pass blocker. The average NFL center gives up between one and two sacks a season. By my count, Hartwig has given up 12 sacks in the past two seasons.

So if the Steelers can get adequate play out of a center, it would make a big difference. But apparently Pouncey is showing signs that he is going to be a whole lot better than adequate. Here’s what the Post-Gazette had to say:

He’s only supposed to miss a few days, but it’s an injury that probably did not need to happen. Before it did, people in the organization were talking about how they had not seen this kind of play by a center against nose tackles since Dermontti Dawson retired a decade ago. Pouncey, who lined up at center and right guard in the two Saturday practices at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, moves nose tackles back. He gets low, gets leverage and away they go as if on roller skates. His feet move like no center since Dawson.

It’s hard not to get excited when you read something like that. If Pouncey looks comfortable at center, the hope is that the Steelers will play him at center. After all, it’s the position he’s played for most of his college career. Pouncey will have to show that he’s comfortable making snaps to a quarterback lined up under center (the Gators played almost exclusively with Tim Tebow in the shotgun) and that he can help make line calls, but it sounds like Pouncey may be ready to take over at center quicker than we thought.

2) Thaddeus Gibson dominated the backs-on-backers drills.

In the early going, Gibson, the Steelers’ fourth-round pick, has looked nearly unblockable in individual drills. The Steelers don’t really have a need for Gibson to make an immediate impact on defense (starting outside linebackers James Harrison and Lamarr Woodley are pretty good), but it’s always encouraging to hear that a rookie is standing out.

But there is a reason to take a deep breath and wait on making any predictions of stardom for Gibson. Coming out of Ohio State, Gibson was thought of as a great physical talent who rarely turned that talent into big plays during games. Ted, our resident draft expert can chime in, but in the games I watched Gibson seemed to take a second to figure out what was going on, which left him unable to fully let loose to blow up quarterbacks or running backs. In a backs-on-backers drill, that’s not a problem–you try to beat the man in front of you without worrying about reading anything.

Gibson’s fast start is good news, but I’m more eager to see what he looks like in the preseason.

3) Dennis Dixon is playing a whole lot better than he did during minicamps.

It may not mean much as Byron Leftwich is getting reps with the first team, but Dennis Dixon has looked much better in Latrobe than he did during minicamp. It’s worth remembering that Ben Roethlisberger didn’t look nearly as good in practices as he did during games when he was a rookie. I’m not comparing Dixon to Roethlisberger, but I do hope he gets some preseason action during the first half of a game or two. If Dixon looks great against third-teamers, it won’t mean a whole lot, but if he can do that against starters, it’s a sign that he’s taken a step forward.

4) Flozell Adams will be starting at right tackle.

The decision to keep Trai Essex at right guard is a pretty clear sign that Adams is the undisputed right tackle for the 2010 Steelers. If Jonathan Scott is his only competition, then he already has that job wrapped up.

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    A line with Starks, Chris-K, Pouncey, Essex and Adams does not sound that bad…at all…