Thursday, July 26, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Who said Bill Cowher left the building?
Listen ... you can hear his clone all the way from Latrobe to Ligonier.
Bob Ligashesky takes it over the top in the kicking game. He's the Steelers' new special teams coach. Think Cowher sprinting up and down the sideline in his early days as special teams coach of the Cleveland Browns.
Ligashesky, a graduate of Sto-Rox High School and IUP, also coached the special teams at Pitt. He makes more noise than the freight trains that thunder pass the two teams' South Side practice facility, but he has toned it down since spring.
"He's calmed down a little since we had the coaching sessions," linebacker James Harrison said.
What hasn't calmed down is coach Mike Tomlin's commitment to getting it right in the kicking game. He held his first all-special teams practice yesterday morning, the first of seven, in addition to the time spent in other practices on the kicking game.
"We just want to give it it's just due," Tomlin said. "That's a legitimate phase of football. It's a significant number of snaps in a football game, so we're putting the time in there while we have the time."
There were years, under Chuck Noll, the Steelers did not have a special teams coach. Tomlin has not one, not two, but three --Ligashesky is assisted by Amos Jones. Ray Jackson, who is in charge of the team's player development, also helps out with the kicking game.
How much more emphasis is put on special teams this year?
"A lot," said defensive end Brett Keisel, a former special teams ace. "Obviously we have an entire practice dedicated to it."
Most starters got a reprieve from playing on special teams in the past; not now. Starters flood the various special teams units.
"Coach Tomlin talked last night how special teams played a big part in the success of the Chicago Bears last year," linebacker Clark Haggans said. "That's why we had practice today. Special teams determines the outcome of two, three, four games that could get you in the playoffs or a playoff win or could get you to the Super Bowl."
Tomlin will switch some players who are competing for jobs, particularly in the offensive line where, for example, Chukky Okobi has been running with the first team at center. Soon, newcomer Sean Mahan could get his turn to run at first-team center.
"We visit that on a nightly basis on some guys who are competing for jobs," Tomlin said. "We will do that from time to time at every position."
Training camp just opened for the Steelers and already there are fireworks.
No fights on the practice field -- not yet, anyway -- but there will be fireworks tomorrow night after practice. Zambelli International will stage a fireworks show at 9:20 p.m. after the Steelers hold their annual night practice at Latrobe Memorial Stadium.
Practice begins at 7 p.m., and fans can get autographs of the players and coaches on the field at 6:45 p.m. Gates open at 5 p.m. Admission is $3 for adults, $1 for children under 18 and seniors, and free to those under 12 with a parent. Proceeds benefit the Greater Latrobe School District sports programs.
The Steelers talked to former NFL quarterback Aaron Brooks, but have decided not to sign him.
Kicker Jeff Reed and safety Ryan Clark have had their contracts reworked to create salary-cap room this year. The players receive the same amount but in a bonus form, a technicality that allows the team to push some accounting of their pay into future years.
Rookies Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers' top draft picks, played outside linebacker with the first-team defense in 7-on-7 passing drills, dropping into coverage.
Woodley says he weighs 264, and the coaches want him down to 255-260.
Wide receiver Santonio Holmes and running back Verron Haynes have not practiced.
Punter Mike Barr has never made an NFL team, yet this is his fifth summer in an NFL training camp. He started out in 2003 with the Washington Redskins, and this makes it four in a row in Latrobe. Barr's chances to make the team dipped when the Steelers drafted Dan Sepulveda in the fourth round. But Barr looks good and was booming them high and deep in practice yesterday afternoon.
It appears Sepulveda will hold for Jeff Reed's kicks.
To start the 10-minute team drill (11 on 11) that ended practice yesterday afternoon, the Steelers deployed three wide receivers on first down. On second down, they used three tight ends. They are things new coordinator Bruce Arians talked about using all spring.
Quarterbacks spent a few idle moments during morning special teams practice trying to lob 20-yard passes into garbage buckets. Former coordinator Kevin Gilbride had his quarterbacks do that often at Saint Vincent College in the summer of 1999, which prompted an old scout to note wryly back then that, when you practice throwing into garbage cans, you get good at throwing into garbage cans.