Steelers receiver finding his Sweed spot early in camp


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See Limas run. See Limas catch. More important, see Limas know where to go and what to do when he gets there.

Three days into training camp and not much has stood out more at Saint Vincent College than Limas Sweed, not even James Harrison's Smart car. He runs routes with authority, catches passes seemingly with ease and even has learned to find a seam or two in a zone defense. In other words, all the things he did not do last season as the team's No. 2 draft choice.

"I said to him the other day, 'Who's that big, pretty guy out there running,' " offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "He said, 'Man, this is so much different than last year.' "

OK, so it's a little early to pronounce Sweed as the biggest and newest weapon in the Steelers' offensive arsenal, a fact coach Mike Tomlin was quick to note the other day. And maybe a few preseason games are needed to see if Sweed is ready, if not capable, of replacing Nate Washington as the team's No. 3 receiver, a job that is his to lose.

But one thing is certain: Sweed probably has already made more plays in three days of camp than he did all of last season when the 6-foot-4, 220-pound receiver was a confused, gangly rookie who made even the most routine catch look difficult.

"This training camp to last training camp is night and day for him," Arians said. "He knows what he's doing, he's playing fast and he hasn't many errors and dropped balls. He's playing so much faster."

Sweed can tell the difference, too.

"I was totally confused last year," Sweed said. "I wasn't in and out of my breaks properly. I was just thinking too much. It's like anything -- if you second-guess yourself and you're not quite sure [what you are doing], you're not going to be as sharp, you're not going to be quite as proficient.

"Now I'm ready. I understand. I know what's going on. I know where I have to be, whereas last year, in zone, I didn't know where I had to be."

Sweed caught only six passes for 64 yards in 11 regular-season games last season -- three came against the New York Giants -- but he received a little more playing time in the postseason when Hines Ward was injured. But he was remembered for his drop of what would have been an easy 60-yard touchdown in the AFC championship game against the Baltimore Ravens, a mistake that was exacerbated when he appeared to indicate he was injured on the play.

But, one thing the coaches have always liked about Sweed: He's a hard worker who doesn't quit trying to improve. A couple of plays after his drop, he delivered a crushing block on Ravens cornerback Corey Ivy that endeared himself to his teammates.

"He's conscientious ... maybe too conscientious," Arians said. "He's got good grit and he's got good accountability about him."

Then Arians paused and said: "I just wish he was a little cockier at times. That's what wideouts need -- that little edge to them. It might come out now that he's getting more comfortable."

Sweed will be challenged for the third receiving spot, primarily by rookie speedster Mike Wallace, a third-round pick from Mississippi, and seven-year veteran Shaun McDonald, a late free-agent pickup from the Detroit Lions. McDonald (5-10, 183) had 79 catches for 943 yards two years ago with the Lions.

But Arians is not discounting Martin Nance, who played with Ben Roethlisberger at Miami (Ohio) University and spent last season on the practice squad. Dallas Baker, who began last season on the 53-man roster, and rookie free-agent Brandon Williams will be in the battle for the fourth and fifth receiving spots.

"It's the same game I've been playing since seventh grade and I made it out to be more than it was," Sweed said. "I've always been a perfectionist. From the time I played basketball when I was little, mother would tell me the same thing -- 'Son, you are your own worst critic, your own toughest critic.'

"I think that's good. I never stopped being that. That's the drive, that's the burn that pushes me inside. That's going to get me to be the type of player I want to be."


Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com .


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