It’s no-more-pencils-no-more-books time for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Like millions of kids across America, the Steelers’ summer vacation has begun. Their offseason work ended Thursday with the final day of mandatory minicamp. No more practices until training camp begins July 26 at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.
Just because the Steelers have six weeks off doesn’t mean they can enjoy a steady diet of beer, chicken wings and pizza. They have to stay in shape and be ready for camp.
Similarly, American schoolboys and schoolgirls can hit the beach every day from now until Labor Day, but many of them will have to bring a book.
Summer reading is a traditional fly in the summer-vacation ointment, at least for those not old enough to wish they had read more when they were younger.
The Steelers’ summer reading assignment is their playbook. But let’s say they had to choose from the same list as their young fans. Here are some suggestions for certain players.
LaMarr Woodley: To Kill a Mockingbird
For the Steelers to get back to the playoffs, they’ll likely have to conquer those birds in Baltimore. Woodley can’t do it by himself, but he’s the latest player to make news in the Steelers-Ravens rivalry saga. He told Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com on Friday that he doesn’t regret saying in 2011 that Joe Flacco wouldn’t go to the Super Bowl “in his lifetime.” Even though he was proven wrong, Woodley’s not about to back off the tough talk. He’ll keep mocking those birds. The Steelers would match up better with the Ravens if Woodley can regain his form from the first half of 2011, when he had nine sacks in eight games.
Brett Keisel: The Old Man and the Sea
Keisel will turn 35 Sept. 19. There’s a chance he could be the oldest Steeler to make the 53-man roster. He won’t be the oldest Steeler in camp, but his beard makes him look like Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea.
Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Markus Wheaton: The Three Musketeers
Mike Wallace signed with the Miami Dolphins, so the Young Money Crew is no longer together. The Steelers drafted Wheaton in the third round of the 2013 draft, the same round they chose Wallace four years earlier. The all-time receptions leader at Oregon State, Wheaton will have to make an impact as a rookie for the Steelers to again have a trio of young receivers worthy of a group nickname.
Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Heath Miller, Brett Keisel, Larry Foote, Ike Taylor, Greg Warren: The Fellowship of the Ring
Those are the seven remaining Steelers who earned both Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII rings.
Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich: A Farewell to Arms
Both should be ready for the phone to ring in case of injuries, but the 38-year-old Batch and the 33-year-old Leftwich likely have played their last games as Steelers. The Steelers brought in younger backup quarterbacks, signing 30-year-old Bruce Gradkowski as a free agent and drafting Landry Jones. Batch was 6-3 as a starter for the Steelers since 2002, including an emotional 23-20 win at Baltimore last December. Leftwich served as a backup to Ben Roethlisberger in 2008 and from 2010 to 2012.
William Gay: Catch-22
The Steelers might have gone 10-6 instead of 12-4 in 2011 if it weren’t for Gay, No. 22, catching two fourth-quarter interceptions to secure two victories. Gay has returned to the Steelers after a year with the Arizona Cardinals. Cortez Allen is the front-runner to start at cornerback with Ike Taylor, but the Steelers brought Gay back to play in nickel packages. The Steelers forced just 15 turnovers in 2011 and 20 last season, which means they needed two years to match the 35 takeaways they forced in 2010. Gay can’t be the only defensive back catching balls if the Steelers are going to alter that trend.
Offensive Line: Slaughterhouse-Five
The Steelers have invested two first-round and two second-round draft picks on offensive linemen since 2010. It’s about time that five-man unit becomes a strength and slaughters opposing defensive linemen and linebackers. Mike Adams, the Steelers projected starter at right tackle, is expected to be ready for training camp after he was stabbed June in an attempted carjacking, according to Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com.
Plaxico Burress: Wuthering Heights
Ben Roethlisberger has clamored for a tall receiver since Burress left as a free agent after the 2004 season. The 6’5” Burress came back last season, but he’ll be 36 on Aug. 12, and his chances of making the team could be withering (OK so it’s one letter off from “wuthering”) away. Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider (subscription required) says Burress “isn’t showing any burst or quickness” at minicamp.
Running Backs: For Whom the Bell Tolls
The Steelers chose running back Le’Veon Bell in the second round of the 2013 draft, so the bell could toll for a veteran’s career with the Steelers. The Steelers’ backfield also includes Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch, third-down back LaRod Stephens-Howling, fullback Will Johnson and undrafted Curtis McNeal. The bell could toll for Dwyer’s days as a Steeler. According to Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider (subscription required), he’s 15 pounds overweight.
J.D. Woods: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Woods is among the Steelers undrafted rookies who have dreamed of an NFL career and will be fighting for a roster spot in July and August. We’re highlighting Woods because he caught 61 passes at West Virginia in 2012. His name might be worth remembering.