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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: 

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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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James Harrison vs. ice water

Written by Dan Gigler on .

Earlier this week Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger and even Steely McBeam got into the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge proceedings to amusing affect, and Brett Keisel (can we call him former Steeler yet? Too soon?) accepted the challenge from the Old Two-Niner, former Penguin Phil Borque then put the challenge out to his former teammate who played next to him and helped him dominate the right side: James Harrison. 

Harrison accepted via Twitter, but said he'd need a day to gather materials. 

You'll see why in one of the better takes of the challenge out there. 

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Last Call from Latrobe

Written by Dan Gigler on .

Though they don't officially break camp until after Friday, the public portion of the 2014 Steelers training camp, their 49th at Saint Vincent College, came to a close yesterday with the second of two combined practices with the Buffalo Bills, their opponent Saturday night at Heinz Field for preseason game number two. 

This was the first time I'd seen one of these combined practices and while it was equally weird to see both another team on Chuck Noll Field and their fans milling around, it was also exponentially more entertaining to watch the Steelers compete against actual opponents rather than simply drilling with themselves ad nauseum. And, it made for one of the best fan turnouts of this camp.  

Here are some pics from the late afternoon practice. 

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Unfiltered. It really is God's country out here. 

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The celebrity selfie is the new autograph, and Ike Taylor indulges some young Norwin Rams.

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J. Peezy learns when you become a coach, only old men are interested in your autograph.

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The view doesn't quit.

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But they have Johnny Football now! Everything will be different, just you wait!   

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Justin Gilbert may become an All-Pro, but speaking of the Browns, methinks they'll regret not taking the gentleman above, Sammy Watkins, when they had the chance.  

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Markus Wheaton makes a grab.

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Drills against an actual opponent was far more interesting than the norm.

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Bills fans -- Why so serious?? Oh right -- no playoffs in 14 years.  

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Big Ben appears to have run into the head shrinker from Beetlejuice

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The Steelers are clearly serious about getting faster on defense. 

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Best non-Steelers Pittsburgh T-shirt of the day

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The principles of ball and baby security are the same: no fumbles or turnovers. 

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I have seen at least one person with a Steelers tattoo on nearly every trip to camp.

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This seems akin to wearing a hairshirt, but whatever. This one is better. 

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Big Steeler & a little kid. 

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Training Camp Tchotchkes

Written by Dan Gigler on .

Bunch of odds & ends from around the Steelersphere ... 

******PG reporter Robert Zullo writes today on Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto's decision to loan the Heinz History Center a $40,000 crystal football, donated to the city by Kaufmann's to commemorate the Steelers Super Bowl XL win. But before handing over the piece Peduto, did his best Immaculate Reception impersonation for WDVE's "Francoing for Steelers tickets" contest which ends tomorrow. 

Needless to say, Hizzoner owned it. 

peduto franco

******Pittsburgh Dad makes his annual visit to Steelers camp ... worth watching for the number retiring joke at the end ... 

******If you're headed to Steelers camp, here's a new place nearby to try for a bite to eat before or after.

******Although they've easily been one of the most successful teams of the last decade, at the same time Steelers losses can be particularly hard to take and Football Outsiders explains that there is definitely a reason for this:  

Pittsburgh fans have probably been saying “if only” a lot over the past few years. The Steelers have had an opportunity for a game-winning drive in 14 of their last 16 losses. Over the past decade, no team has been as likely to lose close as the Steelers. Nearly 80 percent of their losses since 2004 featured a fourth-quarter comeback and/or game-winning drive opportunity ... The league average is 57.7 percent.

******One of the best original Steelers humor blogs, One for the Other Thumb, has reinvented itself in Tumblr format with some excellent photoshop pics, among other content:

OFTOT photoshop  

******Speaking of pictures, here are a bunch of Steeler-related pics of snapped with my over the past year-plus, but could never find a way to work them into this blog, starting with a Tattoo of the Zombie Apocolypse Myron Cope, belonging to Adam Piscatelli of Dive Bar Lawrenceville

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Bunch of Steelers license plates ... 

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plate still

plate lers

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And finally a few vintage T-shirts (the second one in particular is excellent) ... 

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shirt 70s

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Most Pittsburgh thing ever?

Written by Dan Gigler on .

Presented without comment. 

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steelerogies2

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