Charlie Batch Breaks Collarbone in Preseason Opener

Backup Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch suffered a broken collarbone during the first half of the Steelers preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles, reports the Tribune-Review.

Its unknown how serious the injury is, although a collarbone break is among the more serious injuries a player can suffer. If Batch is to be lost for the year, that will leave the Steelers with two rookies, fifth round pick Dennis Dixon and undrafted rookie free agent Mike Potts behind Ben Roethlisberger.

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Long Injury List from Latrobe a Concern

Mike Tomlin’s stated goal for training camp is to “come out as a battle-hardened unit.” This is exactly the objective that Steelers Nation expects from their leader in the field.

The reality that is playing out in Latrobe, is something a little different.

First, came the news that this would be the Steelers shortest summer ever at St. Vincents. Then Tomlin began camp by putting three players on to physically unable to perform list. (Granted, Casey Hampton’s spot on this list amounts to a quasi punishment for showing up out of shape.)

The second week of camp finds Chris Kemoeatu leaving the PUP list only to have the Steelers holding nine players out of practice because of injuries. The official list of starters not practicing Tuesday was:

  • James Harrison (groin)
  • Deshea Townsend (groin)
  • Brett Keisel (groin)
  • Kendall Simmons (shoulder)
  • Marvel Smith (back)

You can add Big Ben to that list, as he only participated in 7 on 7 drills.

Back ups sitting out include:

  • Limas Sweed (hamstring)
  • linebacker Mike Humpal (hamstring)
  • tight end Dezmond Sherrod (neck)
  • linebacker Anthony Trucks (back)

Apparently, Simmons and Smith sat out for precautionary reasons and were supposed to practice Wednesday.

Given that each NFL team only gets 16 shots at glory each year, combined with the realities of the salary cap, the desire of NFL coaches to avoid injury prior to the regular season is understandable.

Hence, every year it seems like starters get less and less work in the preseason, and now it seems like attitude toward practicing someone is, “when in doubt, pull him out.”

Perhaps that’s the right thing to do.

There’s no mock-Pro Bowl selection of the star players whose seasons end before opening day.

But should we be alarmed that the team’s only two established, veteran starters on the offensive line were held out of pratice? How is the line to build cohesion?

At the end of the day, football is a men’s game. As Chuck Noll used to say, football is about hitting, and hitting requires using your body as a projectile. While definitely is an activity that makes one prone to injury, it’s not something that comes naturally. It takes time and yes practice to get into that mindset.

Certainly, players (Casey Hampton excepted) now arrive at camp in far, far better shape than their brethren did 30 or 20 years ago. But nothing can simulate live football.

If Mike Tomlin needs to hold a player out of practice for his good or the good of the team that he most certainly do that. Far better to avoid minor injuries blossoming into major ones.

But one must hope that Tomlin can find a way to exit Latrobe as “a battle hardened unit” in spite of long injury lists.

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Subtexts for Steelers Training Camp 2008

Long before the run test the offensive line, special teams, and the defensive line were the established story lines for Training Camp 2008. As if on cue, Casey Hampton failed the run test and Daniel Sepulveda tore an ACL, underlining the urgency of these areas.

Nonetheless, there are several smaller, but still significant, questions lurking below the radar screen in Latrobe.

Is Mike Tomlin Too Chummy With His Coaches?

Given the team’s horrendous special teams in 2008, the question is not whether Bill Cowher would have fired Bob Ligaschesky, but would he have announced it at the post-game press conference or waited until the next day? Mike Tomlin retained Ligaschesky, concluding that was the root of the problem lay in Pittsburgh’s lack of special team stand outs and not schemes.

It’s true. The Steelers 2007 roster did want for special teams studs. But, as Joe Starkley pointed out back only weeks after Tomlin’s hire, Ligascheksy’s track record as a special teams coach could generously be described as mediocre. Pittsburgh’s 2007 special teams weren’t simply sub-par, they were a critical weakness.

During the 3-0 start, the papers were awash with stories describing how Steeler assistant coaches were basking in autonomy that been unheard of in during the Cowher years. Autonomy is fine, but it goes hand-in-hand with accountability. Case in point:

  • Whose decision was it to keep James Harrison off of the kick off coverage team until the second half of Jacksonville playoff game? If Tomlin signed off on this then the error’s on him, if Ligascheksy did it on his own, then he made a serious mistake.

Tomlin regularly cites Tony Dungy has his formative influence. But Dungy, like his own mentor Chuck Noll, often found himself unable to part ways with assistants that deserved the boot. Tomlin chose continuity over change for his coaching staff during his first off season. That’s fine, as long as he’s ready to shoot and ask questions later during 2008.

Do Tomlin and Bruce Arians Philosophies Clash?

Since the day he was hired Mike Tomlin has espoused a love for “attrition football.” Music to the ears of Steelers Nation. However, Bruce Arians signaled a desire for an offense that stresses the pass more upon his promotion to offensive coordinator

The Redskins of the 80’s, the Cowboys of the ‘90’s, and yes, the Steelers of the late 70’s, showed that power football up front and passing downfield do indeed mix. But long before Dan Kreider fell to injury, Arians had begun phasing him out.

  • Kreider’s bruising style should have been brought to the forefront, given the Steelers weak offensive line in 2007.

While the Steelers’ stable of running backs might end up being envy of the league, it remains to be seen if their offensive line is stout enough for Smash Mouth Football. Therefore, it’s possible that any philosophy clash between Tomlin and Arians will not surface in 2008, but it is a situation that bears watching.

Is Carey Davis a Legitimate Fullback?

Coaches gave the starting nod to Carey Davis over Kreider last year because of Davis’ ability as a ball carrier and pass catcher. Davis was supposed to give the offense more flexibility.

  • Davis contributed little to either the running or passing games, and his blocking was clearly inferior to Kreider’s.

Yet it is Davis, and not Dan Kreider who hold’s the team’s lone fullback slot at St. Vincents. The evolution of Arians’ offense, plus the potential for a pony backfield of Mendenhall and Parker, might render this question moot, but Carey Davis has a long, long, long way to go to show he can fill the shoes once occupied by the likes of Merrill Hoge, John L. Williams, Tim Lester, and the aforementioned Dan Kreider.

For Whom the Waiver Wire Tolls…

Circumstances conspired to prevent the Steelers from nabbing lineman with their premium picks. The Steelers also failed to find good value on the free agent market, save for the signing of center Justin Hartwig. (Despite Tribune-Review writer John Harris’ campaign Anthony McFarland’s behalf.) Both the offensive and defensive lines still need help.

That leaves the waiver wire.

While plucking gems off of waivers is less common in the free agency era, and its certainly not the way you want to fortify your team. But it’s the only option the Steelers have.

Kevin Colbert boasts an excellent record with undrafted rookies and “street free agents.” So if the Steelers start scrounging around the waiver, it isn’t necessarily cause for alarm, in fact, it could turn out to be a net positive. Keep your eyes peeled for unexpected personnel moves around the league. You’d better beleive that Colbert & company will be doing the same.

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Banishing Casey Hampton to the PUP List the Right Punishment?

Mike Tomlin wasted little time in banishing Casey Hampton to physically unable to perform list in response to Hampton’s failure of the team’s annual run test.

Both Ron Cook of the Post-Gazette and John Harris of the Tribune Review hailed Tomlin’s decision, as does Steel Curtin Rising. Hampton is a three time Pro Bowler, and one of the team’s leaders. Tomlin’s message was clear and decisive clear: Everyone is held to the same standard.

The Steelers coach minced no words explaining that Hampton was “He’s overweight and not conditioned enough to participate at this point.”

While Tomlin clearly took the right course of action, Hampton’s response leads one to wonder about its effectiveness. Hampton displayed a rather caviler attitude toward the entire incident, explaining that his first failure of run test in 2003 coincided with his first Pro Bowl selection. When asked how long he would be out of camp, Hampton retorted “I hope all of camp.”

Sounds like being on the PUP list is right up Hampton’s alley.

Therefore, you’ve got to ask was putting him on the PUP the right thing to do?

The answer is yes.

There’s probably no there other suitable punishment Tomlin could have dished out. Forcing to him play extra snaps in full pads in the hot sun would not only deprive the team of opportunities to evaluate untested rookies like Kyle Clement, it would also increase Hampton’s exposure to injury.

In the larger picture, Tomlin wins if other players take note of this example. The smart money says they will. If Hampton doesn’t end up enjoying his extra time out of pads, so much the better.

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Steelers Put Casey Hampton on PUP List

The Mike Tomlin put Casey Hampton on the physically unable to perform list after he failed the team’s annual run test, reports the Post-Gazette. Hampton was unable to complete the final three legs of the eight part run test because he reported to camp over weight.

Given that the health and stability of the defensive line is one of the major issues the team is struggling with this is not good news.

Hampton has never been known for his physical conditioning, but that has never affected his performance. However, as players pass the 30 milestone excess weight not only begins to affect performance, it also can increase the likelyhood of injury.

Tomlin has apparenlty ordered Hampton to get into shape, and the nose tackle will be unable to practice with the team until he is in shape. Tomlin’s move is the right one. Although showing up to camp overweight is a bad example, it is far wiser to fail him in his physical and allow him to train on his own, without the wear and tear of contact drills.

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