I made my annual trip to Steelers’ training camp over the weekend, thanks to former IUP grad John Simpson, a long-time employee of the team. The crowds at St. Vincent are huge this time of year. It was another fun day at the Steelers’ home away from home in the summer. It was sure hot, although coach Mike Tomlin was decked in black with sweat pants and a sweat top. James Conner, the former Pitt star, came over to sign autographs and is a fan favorite. Big Ben Roethlisberger looks slim and trim as he gets ready for another season in Black and Gold. Every Steeler fan should go to Latrobe at least once each summer. I do, and am glad I get to see my team up close.
• I ran into former Steelers’ great Rocky Bleier before practice. Rocky has just come out with an updated version of his 1970s book, “Fighting Back”, that was also made into a movie. There are some new chapters in the book, and some of the proceeds go to veterans. Rocky was wounded in the Vietman War. He’s headed back to Vietnam later this week along with a crew from ESPN for a project that air at a later date. It’s sure to be great. You can order autographed copies of Fighting Back at fightingback.shop. I picked up my copy in person. I read the original book years ago, and look forward to reading the updated version while also supporting our veterans.
• It’s hard to truly evaluate pre-season games. That said, the Steelers looked pretty good against the Eagles. Granted, so many star players were missing from both teams, but those that played for the Black and Gold were solid. I thought all three quarterbacks made a statement. Landry Jones showed why he’s been the backup to Big Ben the past few years. With the exception of one interception, second year man Josh Dobbs was quite impressive. And rookie Mason Rudolph showed why the Steelers took him in the third round.
• Even though Dobbs and Rudolph did well against the Eagles, I still think Dobbs is the odd man out in the quarterback derby. The Steelers won’t carry four quarterbacks. Not surprisingly, fans were asking if the Steelers might try to trade Landry Jones and make Dobbs the backup. That may sound good, but I find it hard to believe the Steelers will deal Jones. He knows the system and has produced when big Ben has been out of the lineup. And we all saw last year what a good backup can do when Nick Foles saved the Eagles’ season. I think they’d rather take their chance with Jones than give the job to a guy who has hardly played for them. Then again, you never know in the NFL.
• I believe James Conner is poised to have a really good second year in the NFL. He’s still a second option behind Le’Veon Bell, and a really good one. Conner is healthy again and has slimmed down. He is on a mission. He may even be auditioning for a full-time role when Bell leaves after this season, which seems to be a given. I thought the Steelers should have used Conner more as a rookie. If he continues his strong pre-season, he will undoubtedly get a lot more action this season.
• The Pirates are in the midst of a very important road trip. They won the series with Colorado and split with San Francisco. That’s not bad, but also not good enough if the Buccos are going to win a wildcard spot, which seems remote these days. The Pirates have a tough stretch coming up. After two in Minnesota, they return home for three against the Cubs and another three against the Braves. Then it’s on the road again to Milwaukee, St. Louis and Atlanta. The Pirates can either make a move in the next few weeks, which I don’t see happening, or fall completely out of the race due to the competition. Needless to say, every game from now on is very important for the Pirates.
• Tiger Woods hasn’t won a major in over ten years now, but he is getting close. After watching Woods in the last few majors I now think he may win again in his forties, something I didn’t think would be possible not long ago. I’m not a Woods fan, but I have to admit he’s a much nicer guy these days, and his play in the last few majors has been nothing short of outstanding. No player, past or present, moves the needle like Woods. The crowds in St. Louis went nuts every time he did something good, and the television ratings will also be huge. Brooks Koepka was overshadowed by Woods, even though he ended up winning the PGA. Koepka also won the U.S. Open earlier this year. It’s been quite a year for the kid who has ties to Western Pa.
• Not surprisingly, some NFL players decided to protest during the national anthem during the first week of pre-season games. I still find those actions reprehensible. Unfortunately, they’ll probably continue all year long even if the players and NFL work out a solution.