Archive: Lambert: Rare Praise

Written by Dan Gigler on .

Tomorrow Ryan Shazier will already be in some rarefied football air as he'll become one of only a few rookies to open the season at inside linebacker for the Steelers in the past 40 years. One of those was Kendrell Bell, who after a bright debut in 2001 flamed out with chronic injuries.

One of the others, was this guy: 


But before he would embark on a legendary career, Jack Lambert too, was a rookie, and made enough of an impression on his coaches that he would become an opening day starter. In the Aug. 22, 1974 Pittsburgh Press column below, Phil Musick explains how a rookie caught even Chuck Noll's eye. 

Lambert: Rare Praise

By Phil Musick, Press Sports Writer

LATROBE -- By the nature of their calling, professional football coaches are blase. Plays which would cause the fan to beat his neighbor with a hot dog while swallowing his program draw yawns from the coach, who sees the extraordinary so often so as to become jaded. 

But, occasionally, a player will perform an act so impressive as to make the coach's whistle fairly tremble. Let us now listen to one such occurrence as described by that well-known verbal conservative, Chuck Noll:

"We're running a play where the flow goes to the right. Only the quarterback fakes the handoff, bootlegs the ball and throws to his left. Lambert goes with the flow, catches himself, goes the other way and dives in the air and takes the ball out of the receivers hands. Fantastic play."

You must understand that the word fantastic is as much a part of Noll's vocabulary as the word Watergate is of Gerald Ford's. Noll is a very prudent user of the adjective. He would describe the Matterhorn as a hill. He uses words like fantastic about as often as Pete Rozelle calls Ed Garvey to chat. 

But in the space of a week, he has referred to Lambert, the club's No. 2 draft pick, using both words fantastic and sensational. Either will do in defining Lambert's progress to date.

Presently, he is one of three middle linebackers on the Steeler roster. The incumbent, Henry Davis, remains hospitalized with a mild concussion; next in the line of succession would be third year pro Ed Bradley.

Lambert must be making both of them extremely nervous despite the old NFL tenet that says to use rookie middle linebackers on a regular basis is to invite a plague upon your house.

But, when it came to crunch in the overtime period Saturday night in Philadelphia, the middle linebacker was Jack Lambert, which may mean nothing ... or everything. Noll evades the question of which, but his eyes twinkle while he is doing it.

"I can't sit here and say that I'm better than Henry Davis," Lambert says, "But I can do the job. I want to start ... to play. Not to play is wasteful."

That Lambert will play already seems a foregone conclusion. He surely inspire that tale about being nimble and quick, but more importantly, he is a hitter. As Noll says, "He's tough and he hits anything that moves. His progress has been sensational."

Certainly it has been enough for defensive assistant Woody Widenhofer to go about for weeks calling Lambert "tremendous." Lambert, himself, will only agree that he is capable.

"I have a lot of confidence," he says. "I feel I can do it. The Philadelphia game made me feel the coaches have confidence in me too."

The original rap on Lambert was that he was too small to play the middle, and as NFL middlemen go, he is smallish. One local sportscaster, observing Lambert has 215 pounds stretched tautly over a 6'4 1/2 frame, suggested he be named Jack the Beanstalk. And various pro observers have expressed skepticism when informed the Steelers were using him primarily in the middle.

But Lambert, who can bench press 350 pounds, although he doesn't look it, is unworried about a lack of heft. He likes the middle. "I think I play better there," he says. "The last four years all I heard was 'go for the ball, go for the ball.' Outside, you have to slow down a little."

Restraint would seem unnatural to Lambert. On the field he gives the appearance of being wound tighter than a cheap wristwatch. "Because of my size, I have to be intense," he explains.

Lambert has been intense since he he played high school ball in Mantua, Ohio. When he hit people, the shock waves were felt two miles down the road in Hiram.

"The other coaches gave me a reputation as a dirty player," Lambert says. "One coach called me the dirtiest player in the whole conference. But they said that after I'd gotten a really good hit on their quarterback."

Signed by Kent State -- I was 6-3 and 185; they recruited me as a monster" -- he was converted to middle linebacker midway through his sophomore year.

"I was a late starter ... slow and clumsy," he smiles.

Now he is neither, and there is evidence he may be a great stretch runner.


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Vacation post - 09-06-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .


-Happy 61st birthday to former Penguins forward Wayne Bianchin (right). A second-round pick in 1973, Bianchin spent parts of seven seasons with the Penguins. As a rookie in 1973-74, Bianchin appeared in 69 games and contributed 25 points. After suffering a broken neck in a bodysurfing accident in the 1974 offseason, Bianchin was limited to two games in 1974-75 and failed to record a point. He rebounded slightly in 1975-76 and appeared in 14 games and netted six points but spent most of the season with the Penguins' AHL affiliate in Hershey. Bianchin broke through in 1976-77 by playing in 79 games and setting career-highs in goals (28) and points (34) while playing on a line with Blair Chapman and Greg Malone. He reached the postseason for the only time in his NHL career that spring and contributed one assist in three games. In 1977-78, Bianchin played in 61 games and scored 20 goals and 33 points. His final season with the Penguins was 1978-79. In 40 games, he netted 11 points. In the 1979 offseason, he was claimed by the Oilers in the expansion draft. In 265 games with the Penguins, Bianchin scored 109 points, 75th-most in franchise history.

-Happy 23rd birthday to current Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin. Acquired during the 2012 offseason in a trade along with Brandon Sutter and a draft pick in a trade which sent Jordan Staal to the Hurricanes, Dumoulin made his NHL debut last season by appearing in six games and recording one assist.

-Today's Obligatory Video: Richard Dean Anderson (AKA, MacGyver) serving as honorary captain of the 1992 United States Olympic hockey team:


(Photo: Penguins Hockey Cards)



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Toronto film festival photos, Day 2

Written by Barbara Vancheri on .

Some snapshots from today's press conference with "The Judge" cast, director and producers (photos by Jason Meritt from WireImage/Getty for TIFF) and some street scenes by me before the rains came.





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Final thoughts: Pitt 30, Boston College 20

Written by Sam Werner on .

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass — Pitt just opened up ACC play with a 30-20 win over Boston College. It wasn't quite as dominating as last week's performance, but a 10-point road win against a conference opponent is always a good result. Here's a link to my game story, and here are a few thoughts to send you to bed with...

Pitt's running game looks to be for real
Of course it was easy to shake off last week's performance with "it was just Delaware." You can't do that with a conference opponent that reached a bowl game last season. The jury is still out as to how good Boston College's run defense is, but it was middle-of-the-pack last year, and, at the very least, appears to be an average ACC defense.
Pitt pounded the ball on the ground for 302 rushing yards after going for 409 last week. James Conner seemed to tire a little bit late (he did get 35 carries, after all) but for most of the game was an absolute force on the ground. He admitted after the game that he could feel Boston College defenders easing up on him after he ran over them a few times.
We didn't see a lot of the other running backs — Chris James had five carries and Isaac Bennett had one — but with Conner running the way he was, why would you want to take him off the field?
The thing that was perhaps most impressive about this rushing performance, though, was how Pitt did it with a bit of a makeshift offensive line. They did the same thing they did last week, subbing in Jaryd Jones-Smith at left tackle on the first drive, but then injuries forced them to improvise even more. Center Artie Rowell went down in the first half with a knee injury, and right tackle T.J. Clemmings was forced out later on, as well. Even with Gabe Roberts at center and Adam Bisnowaty sliding over to right tackle, the rushing game didn't really skip a beat. Obviously, Pitt will be hoping that those guys will be OK (Paul Chryst said he thought Rowell's injury was worse than Clemmings') but it's an encouraging sign that the Panthers' depth up front player well.

The defense deserves some credit, too
Most of the hype surrounding Pitt leading up to the season and during the game has been surrounding Conner, Tyler Boyd and the offense. Deservedly so, I might add. Pitt has young skill talent that's exciting to watch. But the defense did more than its share to win this game after pitching a shutout against Delaware last week.
It's hard to say what would've happened in the first quarter if, following Voytik's interception, Pitt had yielded and given up a touchdown to go behind 14-3. The Panthers may well have come back, but it would've been a lot tougher. Instead, the defense held strong, forced Boston College into a long field goal attempt (which the Eagles missed) and got the ball back to the offense.
As a whole, the defense did a very good job against Tyler Murphy and the Eagles' option attack. Even on the first series when it beat them a couple of times, Pitt had guys in the right places, those guys just whiffed badly on tackles. That's something that's easier to correct as the game goes on than a bad scheme or guys not knowing their assignments, and Pitt did just that.
This is a unit playing with a chip on its shoulder because not a whole lot was expected of them after the graduation of Aaron Donald, but the defense has been pretty good through two games this season. Secondary depth is still a major issue, but seeing a guy like Rori Blair produce up front tonight is encouraging for a defensive end position that is still looking for breakout players, too.

There are still some questions about Chad Voytik
Quarterback Chad Voytik said after the game that, once again, he didn't really care how many passes he threw tonight because Pitt was running the ball so well. That's great, and when the Panthers are running as well as they did tonight (and against Delaware) life will be easy for the redshirt sophomore.
At a certain point, though, an opponent is going to force Pitt to beat them through the air, and I don't think we've seen enough from Voytik yet to know whether or not he's up to the task. He finished tonight's game 10 of 20 for 111 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The way he bounced back from the interception was admirable, and he certainly had some bright moments. The two-minute drive at the end of the first half (particularly the sideline throw to Manasseh Garner) was some good quarterbacking.
But the interception was a pretty bad one, where he just didn't seem to see the linebacker in coverage. He also missed some throws down the field and has a bit of a tendency to lock onto guys some times. The pass protection wasn't great early on, but it got better as the game wore on (and appeared to be better with Jones-Smith in the game). Voytik has shown that he can be a solid game-manager when Pitt can lean on the running game, but the jury's still out on whether or not he can win a game on his own through the air if he has to.

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Live Friday night blog - Pine-Richland wins in OT

Written by Mike White on .

Live blog from Pine-Richland at North Allegheny. For score updates around the WPIAL, look to the right and follow the Twitter account @PGVarsityXtra. Tweet score updates with #WPIAL or send scores and photos to @PGVarsityXtra.


Game winning touchdown pass on third and goal from 25. Ben DiNucci to Mike Merhaut. Pretty pass. One of biggest in P-R history

10:36 P-R QB DiNucci sacked on second down by Layne Skundrich. Third down and goal at the 25.

10:30 North Allegheny gets ball first in OT. Pine-Richland good job on defense. Seth Mancuso kicks 28 yard field goal. Now P-R ball.


Seth Mancuso 49-yard field goal on final play of game little short. We go to OT.

10:21 DiNucci sacked. Fumbles. NA recovers by Skundrich at P-R 38. One first down. On third down, Clemens sacked. 5 seconds left in game. NA ball on P-R 32.

10:17 Seth Mancuso tries 30-yard FGOal. Hits right upright. Pine-Richland takes over on 20. 36-yard pass from DiNucci to Everett on first down. Time out 53 seconds left. P-R third and 10 at NA 44.

10:11 Third-and-9 for North Allegheny. Timeout with 1:38 left and NA on P-R 12.

10:09 NA now on P-R 13.

10:06 29-yard run by Clemens. Tigers now at P-R 35.

10:04 NA's Riley Trueman breaks up 4th down pass. NA takes over at 25 with five minutes left.

9:57 Here comes Pine-Richland driving.


North Allegheny goes 80 yards in 14 plays to tie it. Clay Byerly 6-yard TD run. Two third down conversions and one fourth down in drive. 8:56 to go in game.

I'd say McKeesport rebounded. After trailing Altoona, Tigers now lead 33-17.


But North Allegheny driving. Tigers have moved to P-R 31, first and 10 when play resumes. QB Jeff Clemens using that 6-2 body to pick up some nice rushing yards.

Fox Chapel defeats Seneca Valley, 41-12.


Connor Slomka scores on 1-yard TD run to cap nice 13-play, 86-yard drive.

9:30 On fourth and 5, DiNucci steps up into pocket to avoid rush and hits Luke Everett on 19-yard pass to the NA 5.

9:27 Pine-Richland on move. NA's Clay Byerly just save a TD by knocking down a pass.

Interesting game: West Mifflin leading Gateway, 15-11, in non-conference game.

9:21 North Allegheny punts and P-R takes over at its own 14.

9:17 Second half under way.

Just got this. Clairton leads Wilkinsburg 86-0.

I think I'm the only one who keeps these things. But it's the most points scored in WPIAL game since at least 1952. Since then, previous most was 85.

Well, Seneca Valley apparently misses T.J. Holl. Fox Chapel is leading the Raiders, 24-0. That is a surprise. But never mind Holl. Where is Seneca's defense?

Meanwhile, Mars, without Josh Schultheis is rolling over Yough, 48-0.


Ben DiNucci is 15 of 20 for 164 yards for Pine-Richland. He slowed down after a sizzling first quarter. NA got some pressure on him. 

Pine-Richland has 195 yards offense to 114 for North Allegheny. Both teams ran 29 plays. Jeff Clemens for NA is 4 of 10 for 42 yards and also rushed for 23 yards. Connor Slomka has 28 yards on seven carries for P-R.


North Allegheny goes on 17-play, 77-yard drive. Capped by Jeff Clemens 4-yard TD run. Pine-Richland hurt itself with defensvie penalties. Twice, P-R made stops on third down to apparently force NA into fourth-and-long. But P-R hit with an interference penalty and then holding.

Ridiculous: Clairton leading Wilkinsburg, 72-0 at halftime. YES I SAID 72-0

8:33  NA mounting a drive. At P-R 38.

How bout this: California and Avella supposed to play. Ooops where are the zebras? They didn't show. Game ppd to tomorrow.

South Park leading Quaker Valley 42-6. wow. Never mind missing QB Dane Jackson. Quaker Valley is missing a defense.

8:19 NA's Sell fumbles punt, P-R recovers now has ball at own 39.

8:15 NA quick kicks on fourth down and Jeff Clemens kick pins P-R at own 1.

Surprise: Bethel Park leading No. 1-ranked Woodland Hills 12-7.

Thomas Jefferson has come back to take lead on Belle Vernon 10-6.

Peters Township and Upper St. Clair scoreless after first.


8:08 Pine-Richland finally stopped. Turns ball over on downs at NA 32. 2:12 left in first quarter.


That 14-point lead didn't last long. NA Clay Byerly returned kickoff 90 yards for TD.


Wow. These Rams are definitely proving something. Five plays 53 yards. TD Connor Slomka 6 yd. TD run. DiNucci 9 of 10 so far.

How bout' this: Belle Vernon beating Thomas Jefferson 6-3.

7:53 NA gets two first downs and punts. P-R takes over at own 43 after short punt.

7:50 I question whether North Allegheny will have much of a running game this year.

7:48 First play deep pass for NA. Paul Blendinger behind secondary but dropped.


Wow. Impressive drive. 77 yards in nine plays capped by Ben DiNucci TD pass of 28 yards to D'ondre Gaston in right corner of end zone. DiNucci 5 of 6 in drive. Five different receivers. 10:04 left first quarter.

7:38 Boy does Pine-Richland play fast offensively. DiNucci starts 2-2. One first down for P-R and then NA jumps offside to give P-R another first down. 

7:37 Game time here. Little bit of late start. TV. 

End of first quarter and North Hills and Plum are scoreless.

Surprise so far. Altoona leading McKeesport, 10-0. Coach John Franco thought his team would be improved this year. Looks like he might be right.

Mars bouncing back big after Josh Schultheis injury, leads Yough, 21-0.

Big Class AAA game, Knoch leads Greensburg Salem, 6-0.

Tre Tipton a touchdown and Apollo-Ridge leads Valley, 14-0. Tipton the X factor in that game.



I know Pine-Richland is good and could very easily win this game. But for the Rams to make believers out of people, they need to beat a top-notch team like North Allegheny. So Newman Stadium's turf will be a proving ground.

This isn't a great North Allegheny team. But after seeing the Tigers last week, they look like their defense is still above average. The question is can the offense do enough?

Will NA try to put some pressure on standout P-R quarterback Ben DiNucci?
Rob King

Root is in the house

Check out "Kinger" bothering everyone in the press box. Rob King and Craig Wolfley doing the game on Root Sports TV tonight with Paul Alexander on the sideline. Chris Schneider halftime show.

And here doing the game for MSA Sports is Lanny Frattare and Bob "The Workhorse" Orkwis.

In the Rams' box

And look who is in the press box for Pine-Richland? Only two years ago, Brock Baranowski was playing for Pine-Richland. Now he is helping coach a little.

Brock BaranowskiBaranowski was a tough, excellent player who was invited to walk on at Penn State last year. He went to Penn State last summer and worked out with the team. But a foot injury from high school still bothered him.

He eventually went to another doctor in Chicago and was told he probably can't ever play again. Sad, because he really wanted to do something as a walk-on. Now, he is back in Pittsburgh, starting another chapter of his life.

 One last thing. The Army just showed up. Ooops, it's just the North Allegheny band. What is higher number? Casey Hampton's weight or the members of NA band? I've seen it before but the size of this band is always amazing.

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