By Paul Ladewski
Photo: David Hague – Inside Pittsburgh Sports
Best observation: When asked which team was his early Super Bowl favorite, head coach-turned-media guy Mike Shanahan said, “I have pick the Steelers. You have to stay with the defending champions until somebody beats them.”
But doesn’t the return of Tom Brady (genuflect here) make the New England Patriots the favorites again?
“The Patriots have Tom Brady, but the Steelers have a great defense,” said Shanahan, who didn’t have to explain further.
Best sign: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger aimed a few zingers at the media, then he threw some high, hard ones at his receivers. Despite his off-the-field problems, Big Ben’s focus is on playing football.
Worst sign: The same five starters on the offensive line returned from last season. The unit likes to believe that it will be better this season, but the fact is, there’s not one Pro Bowl candidate among them. Do not rule out Trai Essex making a serious run to unseat Darnell Stapleton at guard.
Best first impression: Wide receiver Mike Wallace played every bit as fast as his 4.33 time at the NFL Combine, and he displayed a dependable pair of hands. He has a lot to learn about pass routes and the pro game, but this guy has the raw talent to be a legitimate deep threat one day.
Worst first impression: Rookie guard Kraig Urbik was consistently outquicked and out of place. And tackle
Tony Hills was a human turnstile.
Best move: At the urging of his teammates – “Hoke! Hoke! Hoke!” — nose tackle Chris Hoke Irish performed the Irish jig and didn’t miss a step.
Best hit: Linebacker Patrick Bailey pancaked rookie tight end David Johnson on a special teams drill. This came only seconds after head coach Mike Tomlin screamed, “D.J., you gotta do better than that!” Oops.
Best performance that went unnoticed: punter Daniel Sepulveda booted one 50-yarder after another, and his corner kicks were equally impressive. Good bye, Paul Ernster and Mitch Berger, wherever you are.
Best idea: Roethlisberger played short toss with Willie Parker between drills. Fast Willie is one of the bad-hands people, but if he could make even routine catches, his value would become that much greater.
Worst idea: Shaun McDonald on punt returns. The ex-Lion lacked the lateral quickness necessary to field kicks outside the hash marks. Could be that Mewelde Moore will be the deep man inside the 20-yard line and Santonio Holmes will get the call everywhere else again.