By Mike Bires
There’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks about two of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ new wide receivers.
One of them is rookie Mike Wallace, a third-round draft pick who may be the fastest player on the team.
The other is seventh-year pro Shaun McDonald, who caught 79 passes two years ago while playing for the Detroit Lions.
But clearly the wide receiver who’s under the most scrutiny at the organized team activities this spring is Limas Sweed.
A second-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, Sweed is working hard to prove he’s not a bust.
“I definitely feel positive momentum going into this season,” he said. “There’s going to be a change in the way I play. There is going to be a change in everything. I have a whole new approach to the game.”
Basically, the basis for Sweed’s new approach is confidence.
It’s easy to sense he’s a more confident player just by the way he goes about his business. No longer is he the nervous, unsure rookie he was a year ago.
Coach Mike Tomlin always says that young players should make significant progress in their second pro seasons. That’s what Sweed intends to do.
With wide receiver Nate Washington gone after signing via free agency with the Tennessee Titans, the Steelers’ need a new No. 3 wide receiver. Sweed intends to be that man.
Sweed wants to be the guy who complements starting wideouts Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes.
But to do that, Sweed must improve dramatically.
As a rookie, Sweed struggled. Pro ball was more difficult that he expected, physically and mentally. He only played sparingly in 11 games during the regular season and made only six catches.
Then Sweed was the central figure in perhaps the most embarrassing moment of the Steelers’ glorious Super Bowl season.
Late in the first half of a thrilling AFC Championship Game, a 23-14 win over the rival Baltimore Ravens, Sweed dropped what should have been a 50-yard TD pass.
Not only was he booed by the fans, Sweed was ripped by Tomlin for his actions after the drop.
After the ball slipped through his hands, Sweed lay on the Heinz Field turf, appearing as though he was injured. Tomlin told Sports Illustrated that week that he felt Sweed was faking the injury because he was so embarrassed by the drop.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve been beating myself up because of that drop,” he said. “But I am using that as fuel this year.”
When the Steelers picked Sweed, who’s 6-foot-4, they hoped to give quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a tall target he wanted.
The pick was somewhat of a gamble. After all, Sweed missed half of his senior season at the University of Texas with a wrist injury and finished with only 19 catches. His stock was definitely falling when the Steelers chose him with the 53rd overall pick.
Then came his frustrating rookie year.
But now, Sweed is practicing with more confidence. Because Ward isn’t actively taking parts in OTAs, it’s Sweed who’s running with the first-team offense along with Holmes.
“I like Sweed,” Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said. “I mean, you can say he dropped a couple passes last year. But if you look at the passes he dropped, he was behind DBs. I think his potential is sky high.”
So do the Steelers