Suffer the little children

                                                    By James M. Perry 

"See now that you don't look down on these little ones," the Bible says (Matthew 18:10). "For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see...

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Green tomato blues? Patience, persistence and planning will get results

Written by Doug Oster on .

blog green tomatoesHere's a couple tomatoes just starting to blush. They'll be ready in a few days. Photo by Doug Oster

As August approaches, gardeners get antsy to taste "real" tomatoes. Everyone knows homegrown tomatoes offer unmatched flavor.

I've heard from more than one person this season, "when are my tomatoes going to turn red?"

"They'll be ready when they're ready," I reply. It's not what anyone wants to hear, but it's the truth.

I've been picking for over a month and here's how; Some varieties mature earlier than others. Plant a big 'Early Girl' in May and you'll be harvesting in June or July. Most cherry tomatoes produce quickly too. Many beefsteak varieties wont' be ready until the end of the season.

It's important to grow many different types of tomatoes and check their plant tag to see how long they take to ripen.

Sunshine isn't what makes tomatoes ripen, it's a combination of genetics and weather.

One trick I use at the end of the season is to cut the tops of the plants off. It forces the fruit to ripen, but I won't do that until September.

Each season teaches us something about the garden. Take notes of when you're harvesting, and when you want to have tomatoes. This will help you plan for next year.

I want the first garden tomato of the year in June and usually get them. You can do the same by starting with the right plant at the right time.

Here's a story I did about growing the tomatoes which are genetically programed to put on the first tomatoes. The challenge was to find a quick fruiting tomato which tasted wonderful. There were tomatoes that produced early, but tasted like cardboard.

Enjoy the fruits of your labor when those tomatoes are ready, like most of us, you'll have too many to eat fresh and can turn them into a wonderful array of culinary treats.



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Empty Netter Assists - 07-30-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .


-According to The Hockey News, restricted free agent forward Nick Spaling has requested $2.85 million in arbitration. The Penguins have countered with $1.65 million. They are scheduled to have an arbitration hearing tomorrow.

-Happy 41st birthday to former Penguins forward Markus Naslund (right). A first-round pick in 1991, Naslund spent parts of three seasons with the Penguins. As a raw 20-year-old rookie in 1993-94, Naslund appeared in 71 games and scored 11 points. In 1994-95, Naslund was limited to 14 games and four points. In 1995-96, Naslund finally seemed to find his game by producing 52 points in 66 games, but at the trade deadline, he was dealt to the Canucks in exchange for Alex $&#$@! Stojanov. The trade is considered one of the worst in franchise history as Naslund developed into an all-star in Vancouver while Stojanov washed out after two seasons in Pittsburgh. In 151 games with the Penguins, Naslund scored 67 points.

-Happy 58th birthday to former Penguins goaltender Greg Redquest. A fourth-round pick in the 1976 draft, Redquest's entire NHL career amounted to one game with the 1977-78 Penguins. He was released in the 1979 offseason.

-Happy 44th birthday to former Penguins forward Jeff Christian. A free agent signing in the 1994 offseason, Christian parts of three seasons with the Penguins. During that span, he only saw action in 15 games and scored four points. In the 1997 offseason, he signed with the Coyotes.

-Happy 29th birthday to former Penguins defenseman Alex Goligoski (right). A second-round pick in 2004, Goligoski spent parts of the four seasons with the Penguins. He had a brief three-game cup of coffee in 2007-08 which produced two assists. In 2008-09, with defenseman Sergei Gonchar sidelined due to a preseason shoulder injury, Goligoski was inserted into the lineup and responded well by producing 20 points in 45 games. After appearing in two postseason games during the team's Stanley Cup run that spring, Goligoski's name earned a spot on the Cup. During 2009-10, Goligoski appeared in 67 games and registered 37 points. He appeared in all 13 of the team's playoff games and contributed nine points. After 60 games and 31 points in 2010-11, Goligoski was dealt at the trade deadline in exchange for James Neal and Matt Niskanen. In 177 regular season games with the Penguins, Goligoski scored 90 points, 95th-most in franchise history. In 15 postseason games, Goligoski scored 10 points.

Neapolitan Ice Cream Metropolitan Division

-Hurricanes captain/forward Eric Staal underwent surgery for a sports hernia. He is expected to be ready for the regular season.

-Former Hurricanes forward Chad LaRose has signed a one-year AHL contract with the Charlotte Checkers, the Hurricanes' affiliate. LaRose did not play in 2013-14.

Atlantic Division

-According to the Buffalo News, the Sabres will hire former Penguins forward/assistant coach Bryan Trottier as an assistant coach.

-The Maple Leafs re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Jake Gardiner to a five-year contract worth a total of $20.25 million. Coming off an entry-level contract with a salary cap hit of $875,000, Gardiner's new deal will have a cap hit of $4.05 million. Appearing in 80 games last season, Gardiner, 24, scored 31 points (10 goals, 21 assists).

-EN Says: This is a huge commitment to a young player who has only scratched the surface of his potential. Gardiner is a mobile puck-moving defenseman who can do just about anything offensively. Defensively, he's still learning the game at the NHL level and doesn't offer much of a physical game. If he reaches his ceiling, this contract could become a bargain.

-Canadiens restricted free agent defenseman P.K. Subban (right) has requested $8.5 million in arbitration. The Canadiens are offering $5.25 million. They are scheduled to have an arbitration hearing Friday.

-The Canadiens hired former Rangers assistant Dan Lacroix as an assistant coach and former Rockies/Blues/Flames/Maple Leafs/North Stars/Lightning/Canadiens/Flyers defenseman Rob Ramage as a player development coach.

-Former Sabres/Islanders defenseman Joe Finley has signed a one-year AHL contract with the Hamilton Bulldogs, affiliate of the Canadiens.

-The Panthers have re-signed restricted free agent forward Jimmy Hayes to a one-year contract worth $925,000. Coming off an entry-level contract with a salary cap hit of $654,167, Hayes, 24, appeared in 55 games last season and scored 18 points (11 goals, seven assists).

-EN Says: After being traded from the Blackhawks last season, Hayes found some success with the Panthers and scored 11 goals in just over have a season. If he can maintain that type of success over a full season, he could be a 20-goal threat. He's a big body (6-foot-6, 221 pounds) who plays in front of the net primarily.

-The Red Wings hired former Red Wings/Kings/Rangers forward Jim Hiller as an assistant coach.

-Negotiations on contract extension between Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock and general manager Ken Holland are on hold.

Central Division

-The Jets re-signed restricted free agent forward Michael Frolik (right) to a one-year contract worth $3.3 million. Coming off a contract with a salary cap hit of $2,333,333, Frolik, 26, appeared in 81 games last season and scored 42 points (15 goals, 27 assists).

-EN Says: Frolik has tons of skill and even more speed. What he doesn't have have is a ton of consistency. Capable of playing all three forward positions, he has been fairly valuable through being versatile. This is a fair contract.

-The Jets re-signed unrestricted free agent forward Matt Halischuk to a one-year two-way contract.

-The Wild re-signed restricted free agent forward Justin Fontaine to a two-year contract worth a total of $2 million. Coming off a contract with a salary cap hit of $600,000, Fontaine's new deal will have a cap hit of $1 million. Appearing in 66 games last season, Fontaine, 26, scored 21 points (13 goals, eight assists).

-EN Says: Fontaine broke through as a third-liner last season who could contribute some offense. If he can at least maintain his level of play, this is a bargain.

-The Blues signed former Panthers forward Peter Mueller to a one-year two-way contract.

Pacific Division

-The Kings re-signed restricted free agent forward Dwight King (right) to a three-year contract worth a total of $5.85 million. Coming off a contract with a salary cap hit of $750,000, King's new deal will have a cap hit of $1.95 million. Appearing in 75 games last season, King, 25, scored 30 points (15 goals, 15 assists).

-EN Says: As a bottom-six forward, King has been a significant part of the Kings' two Stanley Cup championships in the past three seasons. A big body (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) who is tenacious on the forecheck, King can also contribute a little offense. This contract looks like a bargain.

Norris Division

-Former Capitals/Lightning/Thrashers/Blues/Bruins/Flyers/Canadiens forward Glen Metropolit has joined Adler Mannheim of Germany's DEL.

-Former Rangers/Blues goaltender Chris Holt has joined Ritten of Italy's Serie A league.

(Photos: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images, Marianne Helm/Getty Images, Francois Laplante/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images and Penguins Hockey Cards)

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Evaluating the Colonials, Post PBC Pro-Am Edition

Written by Craig Meyer on .

It's a point that's going to be stated over and over, not because those of us who cover Robert Morris basketball enjoy redundancy, but because it's true and equally important -- the 2014-15 version of the Colonials is going to be a relative unknown.

Such is life when eight of your 14 players were not on the team last season. Of those eight newcomers, five of them were playing high school basketball a few months ago.

With uncertainty come varied expectations. There's the promise of potential, but there are also the pitfalls that come with it. People are often optimistic about a new player's prospects, but they gloss over the potential downsides.

When you're dealing with unknown commodities, any small glance at what they bring to the table is helpful. That meant that this year's Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am took on a different kind of importance for those of us who follow Robert Morris. Not because the games meant more -- they're still exhibitions, after all -- but because this is our first look at a group of players that will make up the nucleus of the program going forward.

Below, I've got some brief evaluations of each player, both new and old, and how I think they'll project on the Colonials' roster this season.


Pro-Am regular season stats: 28.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.0 apg, 49.5 percent on FGs, 42.6 percent on 3s.

The story I did a week or so agoon Lucky covers this, but it's still worth repeating -- he has looked tremendous this summer. Granted, these type of leagues have a tendency of favoring older, more experienced players against younger ones -- just look at the NBA summer league -- but even that can't put too much of a damper on his numbers. Jones has done what we've seen so much of in his career -- strong defense, a good outside shot, loads of athleticism and a versatile game -- but it's almost as if it's been taken to another level. He looks faster, his shot's going down easier and there's a certain assertiveness that's becoming readily apparent, the kind that you see from a guy who knows he only has one year of college basketball left.

I think that observation's summed up by a conversation I had with him last week. After finishing an interview with Jones, I asked him if he was going to be heading home to Newark after the Pro-Am wrapped up. After all, the team's summer workouts are over by that point and with school not starting for another month. It's only natural for a guy, especially one who is an eight-hour car ride from home, to want to go back. His response? "Nah, I'm just going to be staying here, putting in work."

It's dangerous to draw sweeping conclusions from these games, a caveat that applies to each of these player evaluations, but I see Jones entering the season as a strong favorite to take home NEC player of the year honors. Awards like that are partially dependent upon how the team finishes, but with his combination of offense and defense, along with the strides he has shown, I have a hard time imagining a better player in the conference.


Pro-Am regular season stats: 25.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.7 apg, 49.1 percent on FGs, 35.7 percent on 3s

There was definitely more assertiveness in Oliver’s game. As opposed to the catch-and-shoot role he largely held last season, you would see him drive more to the basket and work off the dribble. On a couple of occasions, he showcased a nice move where he would step-back off the dribble and drain contested jump shots. There were some bad misses, sure, but you’re liable to get that in such a league.

It’s not realistic to expect him to have a Karvel Anderson-level jump when it comes to expanding his game, but given how many shots he took, those shooting percentages were pretty good. Perhaps he’s ready for a larger load this season. Even if that doesn’t come to fruition, I’d have to guess he begins the year as the starting shooting guard, despite some shakiness on the defensive end.


Pro-Am regular season stats: 10.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 62.1 percent on FGs 

We hear so much about guys with high ceilings, but I’ve always had a soft spot for players with high floors. They’re the kind of guys that may not do anything spectacularly well, but regardless of how poorly they do, you’re going to get something productive out of them.

That’s how I view someone like Tate. Even if he’s off, he provides the team with a strong rebounding threat down low and a big body that can move its way around the post. He’s a prototypical junkyard dog of a power forward. Not much has changed, but he did appear more comfortable on the offensive end, particularly with a semi-effective pump fake he was showcasing. That could be a product of a more relaxed atmosphere, but it may also be a positive development that’s here to stay.


Pro-Am regular season stats: 8.5 ppg, 7.5 apg, 2.0 rpg, 44.4 percent on FGs, 40.0 percent on 3s

After a promising freshman season often come expectations of stardom or, at the very least, a sizable step forward. With more playing time, I believed even at the end of last season that Kavon Stewart would live up to those hopes. Those statistics above are just from two games, so it’s a small sample size, but he seemed to be in much greater control of the game than he was last season. His 7.5-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is evidence enough of that fact.

His speed and ability to finish at the rim is uncommon at the low-major level. Don’t expect that to change. But if he truly wants to become a complete offensive weapon, he has to improve his jump shot. Two summer league games isn’t enough evidence to make a statement one way or another as to whether that’s the case right now. This much is certain, though: barring something unexpected, Stewart, along with Lucky Jones, is one of the players you can write in pen into Robert Morris’ opening game lineup.


Pro-Am regular season stats: 6.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 38.1 percent on FGs

One of the worst things that can happen to a player is a gradual regression in production during their career. That’s certainly not the case with Hawkins, but from what I was able to see this summer, I just didn’t see a whole lot of progress from Hawkins. He made some strides last season with more playing time – he’s miles from what he was even late in his freshman season – but he looked like largely the same player. A little aloof at times, solid (if unspectacular) defensively and not much of a refined post game, though the latter has been a point of emphasis for the coaching staff. His mid-range jumper, especially on the baseline, is still killer, though.

Based on his experience, there’s a good chance Hawkins is in position to be the starting center at the beginning of the season. But if much progress isn’t displayed, it wouldn’t be hard to envision someone like Elijah Minnie coming in and supplanting him.


Pro-Am regular season stats: 18.6 ppg, 4.2 apg, 4.0 rpg, 47.9 percent on FGs, 30.0 percent on 3s

If there’s one freshman to keep an eye on right away – one who can fill the ‘if you had to pick one player to make an immediate impact?’ question that coaches are generally smart enough to avoid answering -- it’s Reed. He comes in with a certain reputation as a scorer after averaging 32 points per game as a high school senior and for that most part, that’s an accurate descriptor. He’s fast and assertive, two things that help him get to the rim often and easily. He’s not much of a distributor, so he’ll definitely fill the two-guard role. As great as he was offensively, his defense is equally strong. There’s a pesky, tenacious quality to it, one that routinely allows him to get steals and get his team on a fast break.

There’s a downside to that skill set, of course. Reed was reckless at times, forcing up bad shots or trying to move into traffic when there simply wasn’t room. But he’s still a player that has yet to play a college game, so that stuff will likely subside with time. Though he’s not as talented, he reminds me a little bit of Russ Smith in a general sense – a guy with an uncanny ability to score combined with a ferocity on the defensive end. Of all the freshman, I think Reed’s a safe bet to be the leading scorer of the group in Year One.


Pro-Am regular season stats: 17.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.0 apg, 44.4 percent on FGs, 21.4 percent on 3s

From covering him in high school, my question with Minnie was how he would do once he actually went against players close to his own size and not the pint-sized opposition he faced in Class A of the WPIAL. As his Lincoln Park team advanced to the state championship, he gradually began to answer that question with a ‘Yes.’ This summer, I saw much of the same.

Minnie’s about 6-foot-8, but I’d have to guess his wingspan is close to seven feet. His arms seem to stretch out into the abyss and especially on defense, he puts them to good use. Almost instantly, I think he’ll deter players from attacking the rim freely and he’s athletic enough that he should be fine on the offensive end. His 3-point shot isn’t as bad as the above percentage would indicate, but he can sometimes get a little trigger happy from deep, especially for someone his size.

If he can keep his head on straight and add some bulk, which will almost inevitably come with a Division I lifting regiment, he can play a major role this season.


Pro-Am regular season stats: 9.8 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 1.4 apg, 41.4 percent on FGs

The thing that immediately stands out about Gomis is his sheer size – not so much his height, but his bulk. A lot of the big men you see in the NEC are of the same ilk as Hawkins and Minnie. They’re the long, lanky guys who you’re not going to see overpowering everyone on a consistent basis. That’s not the case with Gomis, who has a muscular frame that allows him to enforce his will on the low post.

His post game can use some work, as the field goal percentage indicates, but he seems to pick his spots well on offense. Plus, his rebounding ability his undeniable. At the very worst, he’ll have a firm spot in the Colonials’ rotation, with room to grow.


Pro-Am regular season stats: 11.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.2 apg, 36.7 percent on FGs, 34.5 percent on 3s

Kinsey’s in a pretty solid position as a freshman. You have someone entrenched as the starter in front of you in Stewart, so you can kind of take your time to figure things out and learn the college game. It also works well for Robert Morris because he brings a different kind of skill set than Stewart. Kinsey’s a slightly taller, stouter point guard who may not have the same speed as his sophomore counterpart, but he has inherent physical advantages that should help.

Like Stewart, he’s going to have to work on his shot, but even when his shooting was off, he still seemed to find a way to score. That’s an important quality. His decision-making was questionable during the summer league – he averaged 1.2 turnovers per game – but that should theoretically improve with time.


Pro-Am regular season stats: 3.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 57.9 percent on FGs

When I saw Frederick’s statistics from the regular season, I was kind of taken aback. The numbers that you see above indicate some solid performances in limited time, but so often what I saw from Frederick was something else. He looked almost lost on the court at times, like he was a gear or two slower than other players on the court.

Again, as a freshman, this could be natural, especially because he was sporting a knee brace throughout the tournament. I’ll be intrigued to see what Frederick can do once practices start because what I saw out at Montour was a player who’s simply not ready yet. Based on those observations, he seems like as good a candidate as any to redshirt.


Pro-Am regular season stats: 8.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 27.3 percent on FGs, 41.7 percent on 3s

 I don’t know if Andy Toole would be down for adopting the “run-on” term Bill O’Brien popularized at Penn State (I hope not), but when you think of walk-ons at the lower levels of Division I, the guys you think of aren’t typically good. With all due respect to the likes of Treadwell Lewis, Skovranko is much better than a traditional walk-on.

That’s not to say he didn’t also look lost at times. Like Stewart and Minnie, his former Lincoln Park teammate, Skovranko only played in two games, the first of which he looked completely overmatched in. He airballed shots, played shoddy defense and made some really glaring mistakes. His other appearance, however, was a completely different story. He was more in control on the offensive end and was knocking down 3 after 3. He’s not going to be a world-beater early in his career, but if he can carve out a niche as a taller player who can come off the bench and knock down outside jumpers – a tough matchup for any team – he’ll be a valued contributor.

NOTE: Jairus Lyles, Rodney Pryor and David Appolon did not participate in the Pro-Am.


 So, as a collective unit, what does do all of these individual assessments mean?

We’re still almost four months away from the start of the season, but I think these early signs are encouraging, more so than I thought entering the summer.

I’m always dubious of teams that have so many new pieces. For all of the talent there can be, there’s still a feeling out process with an indefinite length. Some of these teams find a way to click while others never can. It’s imprecise.

But there’s real potential with this team. I think all six of the returning players – Jones, Oliver, Tate, Hawkins, Stewart and Appolon – will all have a role in the team’s main rotation (let’s assume that will include a group of 10 players). Of the new guys, I think you can add Reed, Kinsey, Minnie and Gomis to that group. They’ve been impressive at times over the summer and you can envision them in a particular role in the team’s paradigm.

That’s a good group of players. Jones is your go-to guy, your star. Stewart is primed for a big leap this season, with Kinsey getting experience as a reliable back-up. Neither Oliver nor Reed will fill the void left by Karvel Anderson, but as a two-man platoon, they’re going to be strong, especially because they possess different skill sets. Appolon’s your do-everything guy who finally hit the maturation point last season fans hoped he would. Tate and Gomis are your grinders at the four, maybe a little offensively limited, but strong rebounders who will make plays. And Hawkins and Minnie are your bigs, the guys who will protect the rim with absurd length and even stretch out the floor.

Of course, there’s a lot of uncertainty, but isn’t the NEC going to be defined by that this season? When you take a team-by-team look, it’s not going to be a very good league. LIU, Wagner and Mount St. Mary’s lose almost everyone significant. Fairleigh Dickinson loses key pieces, as does Bryant. Sacred Heart still has a ways to go. If I had to pick, I’d put Robert Morris somewhere in the top three, along with the St. Francis’ (Brooklyn and PA).

So many variables still need to be figured out, but if the Pro-Am did one thing, it at least gave an idea of what’s possible. And, for the time being, that possibility is alluring.

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Archive: Noll Assesses Bumper Crop of Rookies

Written by Dan Gigler on .

 Gene Collier writes today, eloquently as per usual, about Art Rooney Jr.'s memories of the rookie training camps of the legendary 1974 draft class, widely regarded as the greatest ever, which would go on to yield four Hall of Famers in Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster, and another guy worthy of Canton consideration in Donnie Shell. 

Below is an August 22, 1974 Post-Gazette article by now senior copy desk man David Fink with Noll's thoughts on his rookies after nearly six weeks of training camp, followed by a column from two days later by the Pittsburgh Press's Phil Musick on the same topic. Interesting how Noll was enamored of Stallworth and Lambert, Swann not so much, and saw the clear potential in Webster.  

swanny 1974Lynn Swann on NFL Draft day, 1974. 

Noll Assesses Bumper Crop of Rookies

By David Fink / Post-Gazette Sports Writer

LATROBE – If nothing else, a rookie’s training camp performance is remindful of a firefly. There is a bright glow here and there, but it seldom lasts. And, of course, the rookie usually disappears before the full measure of his talent can be grasped.

As a result, most winning football teams seldom list more than three or at the most, four rookies on the final 47-man roster.

All indications however, point to 1974 being an exceptionally prosperous year for the National Football League rookies. Take the Pittsburgh Steelers’ impressive array, for example.

Over there with the receivers are Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and Randy Grossman; down there with the linebackers is mean Jack Lambert; up there with the offensive lineman are Mike Webster and Rick Druschel, and that slippery hulk with the defensive lineman is Charlie Davis.

“The fact is,” noted Steeler coach Chuck Noll yesterday, “the rookies have an opportunity to show they can become consistent and prove their staying power this year because of the Players’ Association strike. Most years, you just don’t have the time to give them this thorough an inspection.

“The biggest single obstacle a rookie must overcome is convincing himself that he belongs here physically. That takes some kids more time than others, but this year they all have had a longer grace period. They’ve gotten more personal attention and live scrimmaging than most years too.”

Noll, of course, would not commit himself on exactly how many would probably survive the final cuts but he offered the following assessments of several spotlighted rookies:

Grossman – “A surprise? No, I wouldn’t go so far as to say he is a surprise, but he was a long shot from the start of camp. We look at our tight ends as blockers first, receivers second. All of our tight ends are getting a lot of practice on blacking techniques.”

Swann – “We can’t tell very much about him yet. He’s been hurt too much. First he hurt a heel, then a thumb and we just haevn’t seen enough of him yet. Maybe this week.”

Stallworth – “He has done everything we’ve asked of him so far and been impressive in doing so. His speed and hands you’ve got to like.”

Webster – “He shows a lot of potential as a guard even though he had no experience there because he has played center. He’s a little short, but so is (Miami’s All-Pro) Larry Little. But he’s quick and strong and, when he learns how to pull, he could be a good one.”

Druschel – “There’s a lot of physical ability there, but he’s been hurt. He’s practicing now, but he’s not 100 per cent yet and it just would not be fair to evaluate him yet.”

Lambert – “He’ll hit anything that comes his way. He’s a tough kid and his progress has been sensational.”

But Chuck, how do you fit in all these rookies while, at the same time, trying to get your veterans into proper condition?

“That is the problem we’ll have to cope with from here on. I’d like to keep with the two-a-day workouts when we move back to Pittsburgh next week, but it won’t be possible since we’ll be working out at Pitt Stadium most of the time.

“Right now my vets are in the sore stage that always takes place after about a week of two-a-days. It’s by far the toughest time of the training period for them. But heck, I may have to carry a 75-player roster all season because of the strike conditions, so I can’t stop working with my rookies either.

“But, in all fairness to the young players, we have more competition for more positions now because of the rookies then we’ve had here in my five previous season. That’s a positive situation for everybody if I can find time to get all of them some playing time in each exhibition game.”

In 1970 – the last time there was a players’ strike – 12 rookies made the Steelers’ regular-season roster. Since then, the number has decreased sharply. That won’t be the case this year.

steelers-line-960Steeler rookie Jack Lambert (top right) in the '74 AFC Championship.

The Young Steelers: Bad News For Veterans

By Phil Musick

August 24, 1974    

The following sentence seems so preposterous that it will probably leap from this page, skitter off through the comics and wind up among the classified ads.

But it is possible – possible – that as many as 10 rookies could wind up playing for the Steelers this winter. I know, I know 10 rookies do not make contending teams in the National Football League. It doesn’t happen. Like rookie jewelers don’t get to work on the Hope Diamond, it doesn’t happen.

But it could. Ever since the strike began, Chuck Noll has insisted that the additional exposure and individualized coaching given the rookies could result in many first-year pros displacing veterans.

Strike talk, jeered the cynics. Verbal strategy to entice more vets into camp. Maybe not.

While it must be regarded as the purest speculation, it might be said that five rookies already have the club made. And as many as a half-dozen more could take a further step toward the pension plan tonight when the Steelers host the New York Giants at 8 o’ clock at Three Rivers.

“The big thing is deciding they belong here,” says Noll. “They’ve had the extra work with the coaches because of the strike. Then they do a few things well in the exhibition games and they say, ‘Hell, I can play here’.”

Such a thought should’ve already occurred to at least five young Steelers: Receivers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann, linebacker Jack Lambert, center-guard Mike Webster and tight end surprise Randy Grossman.

No team cuts its No. 1 draft choice – the scouting department would commit mass suicide – and for that reason alone, Swann will stick. How valuable he will be remains questionable.

“We don’t really know a hell of a lot about him,” Noll says, referring to heel and thumb injuries which have cost Swann practice time.

Lambert and Stallworth have played well enough to indicate they could be playing regularly before the regular season gets very far along.

“Stallworth’s played exceptionally well,” says Noll of the leading receiver of the exhibition season. “Lambert hits anything that moves ... he’s been sensational.”

Less observable has been Webster, but there are indications he is quality goods. When he learns to pull, Webster should be a dependable guard as well as a center, and Noll treasures versatility among his offensive lineman.

Grossman started last week in Philly in an offensive lineup dominated by veterans and the next pass he drops will be his first. He is a bit smallish but is diligently working on his blocking, a priority for tight ends who want to play for Noll. “He’ll come along,” Noll predicts.

Beyond the aforementioned five rookies, six other first-year players could make the club: Defensive backs Donnie Shell and Jim Allen, offensive tackle Dave Reavis, guard Rick Druschel and receiver Nate Hawkins. Also in the running is second-year receiver Dave Davis.

Some of the rookies could, of course, play themselves into trouble tonight. They could also play a veteran or three into the World Football League.

donnie shell 1974 12 29Rookie Steelers safety Donnie Shell buries Raiders receiver Cliff Branch in the 1974 AFC Championship game.

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