On the Steelers: Faith in Sweed reveals itself this offseason
To paraphrase an old college coach, the best thing about rookies is they become second-year players. The Steelers are counting on as much from Limas Sweed, who suffered this memorable drop in the AFC title game vs. Baltimore.
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Mike Tomlin spotted Limas Sweed talking to a reporter the other day and the Steelers coach made a beeline for the press room where the two sat.
"Don't talk too much,'' he chided Sweed. "Under promise, over-deliver.''
Sweed is the reason the Steelers did not make a bigger play to keep their No. 3 receiver, Nate Washington, before he signed as a free agent with Tennessee. He is a reason they enter the draft not desperate to pick a wide receiver on the first day.
That might seem odd to many because Sweed caught only six passes in his rookie season and, when pressed into play in a close AFC championship game, he dropped the biggest pass of his life while wide open by 10 yards. It would have been a 50-yard touchdown.
But don't judge a receiver by his rookie season because they rarely do well. It's among the toughest positions for a rookie. Plaxico Burress, although installed as a starter, caught 22 passes as a rookie, Hines Ward 15. Frank Lewis 3 and Lynn Swann 11.
There are exceptions, of course, such as Louis Lipps (45), Troy Edwards (61) and Santonio Holmes (49).
The position is difficult because the entire pro way of calling plays, running routes and doing it against bigger, faster men while getting jammed at the line of scrimmage is so different. Receivers who did what came naturally in college are bogged down in thinking.
"I think that's a big thing," Sweed said, repeating a refrain often heard by rookie receivers. "When I was out there thinking so much I couldn't get from point A to point B as fast as I can when I'm not thinking. It's just thinking too much."
Some major leaps have been made by receivers in their second seasons in the NFL. Burress caught 66 passes, Ward 61. Sweed -- stuck behind starters Holmes, Ward and fourth-year pro Washington last year -- will make a big jump as well, although heeding his coach's advice, he's not predicting as much.
Sweed, at 6-4 and 217, takes over the role as the tall receiver, the one they delivered to Ben Roethlisberger last year in the second round of the draft. He's also stronger.
Many forget that his senior season at Texas was ruined by a wrist injury that required surgery Oct. 16, 2007. He was a preseason All-American that year and headed as a likely first-round draft choice until that injury. It wasn't until recently that Sweed could lift a certain way because of that wrist.
He has a passion to be good and cannot wait for spring drills to begin. He developed an early reputation as someone who dropped passes because he did so in some practices and that big one in the AFC title game. He compounded that mistake by rolling on the ground as if he had an injury, forcing the Steelers to use their final timeout of the first half.
He's asked about it often and knows he must gain the confidence of many by making them forget that one play, although he's not the first receiver to drop a pass wide in the open.
"Even Hines said when you're wide open, it's way harder to catch because sometimes you lose focus and you don't follow it in because you're so open,'' Sweed said.
Yet he came back to make three big plays in that game, pressed into service because Ward was injured. He threw an aggressive block, broke up what could have been a Baltimore interception in the end zone to preserve a field goal drive, and caught a third-down pass for 14 yards to the Steelers' 28 that kept a drive going in a close game in the fourth quarter.
Those three plays after his big drop showed Limas Sweed had something.
"That's me,'' Sweed said. "I'm not going to go in the tank and I said I wasn't going to go in the tank. Something happened that's bad, it is what it is. Let's come back and let's see what I can do on the next play. That was my mentality. I want to show what I had.''
He will get plenty of opportunity to do that this summer, to follow the second part of his coach's advice and over-deliver.
Here's something a little different for this space today. Instead of insight into the NFL or Steelers, I give you an appeal to help a little girl in Westmoreland County and, yes, the Steelers are involved.
Fallyn McNamara, 6, of West Hempfield has a rare skin disorder known as recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (RDEB). It makes her skin as fragile as the wings of a butterfly, the reason these kids are known as "butterfly children.''
She needs at least $200,000 to undergo treatment that includes a bone-marrow transplant. Several churches are helping raise funds, as is the Steelers basketball team, Hempfield High School and author Jim Wexell, among others. The Steelers basketball team agreed to extend its season to play a game at Hempfield May 17 at 2 p.m. with the school donating all proceeds to the cause. The Steelers have donated items for an auction that day.
Wexell will donate half the proceeds from the sale of his wonderful book, Steeler Nation, bought at www.pittsburghsportspublishing.com, from today through Father's Day. He's also asking Steelers fans to make donations for Fallyn's treatment at the Web site www.helpfallyn.org or by calling Frank McNamara at 724-864-5718.
First Published April 12, 2009 12:00 am