On the Steelers: Fast corps of wide receivers prompts major change in Ravens secondary
Steelers Mike Wallace stretches for a ball behind Ravens defensive back Lardarius Webb in the first Steelers-Ravens game in 2010. Wallace believes the Steelers wide receivers are too fast for Baltimore.
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Casey Hampton suggested this week that the Steelers have the edge on the Baltimore Ravens because they have a better deep passing game.
The Ravens tried to counter that in April by drafting one of the best cornerbacks available, Jimmy Smith of Colorado, with the 11th overall pick. Smith is big at 6 feet 2, 210 pounds, and he has been clocked in a reasonably fast 4.47 seconds in the 40. Word from Baltimore is that he will make his first pro start Sunday in his first game against the Steelers.
The Steelers have some young receivers who can fly.
"I'm not worried about him," said one of them, Mike Wallace. "He needs to worry about us."
Wallace has 4.3 speed and has led the AFC in each of the past two seasons with averages of 19.4 yards (2009) and 21.0 yards ('10) per catch. Emmanuel Sanders runs a 4.4, and Antonio Brown looks to be even faster than his 4.47 clocking coming out of school. Smith will be tested deep early in his NFL career.
"He just needs to just be ready, because we're going to be coming at him," Wallace said.
Wallace has two big-play seasons behind him, so his puny three catches for 19 yards in this preseason prompted no concerns. On the other hand, Brown has been sensational, averaging 25.6 yards on nine catches this summer, three for touchdowns -- one of 77 yards.
The Steelers are expected to test that Ravens secondary with the rookie Smith at cornerback Sunday.
"Man, we can take our shots deep on anybody," Wallace said. "We don't discriminate. It doesn't matter who it is. Anybody can get it."
The previous time he stepped on M&T Bank Stadium field in Baltimore, Isaac Redman was a little-known backup halfback from nearby Bowie State. By the time he stepped off, he may have helped save the Steelers season.
Redman returns to Baltimore, near where he played his small-college football, lugging a bigger role in the Steelers offense to open the season and memories from the biggest play of his young career.
"I still watch it on YouTube once in a while," Redman said. "It was a big play."
The only one bigger Dec. 5 in Baltimore came a few plays earlier, when Troy Polamalu blitzed off the corner, hit quarterback Joe Flacco and caused a fumble that put the Steelers back in a game that was seemingly lost with 3:13 left.
With 2:58 to go, however, they still were 9 yards away, and it was third-and-goal. The Steelers trailed by four, so they needed a touchdown.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took the snap, saw the blitz, read the "hot" route and flipped a quick, short pass over the middle to Redman, who made safety Dawan Landry miss initially and broke a few tackles getting into the end zone with 2:51 left.
That touchdown for a 13-10 victory might have made the difference between the Steelers and Ravens winning the AFC North and, ultimately, the AFC.
"Without that play, who knows how things would have ended up the rest of the season?" Redman said.
"Lose to them, lose the division, not having the homefield advantage -- that really, really, really sparked that Super Bowl run."
Redman wasn't bragging, merely saying.
"Everything still seems like a blur. I knew it was 'hot' and I had a chance to beat the first guy, and kind of just wouldn't be denied. It was like 'Ain't nobody tackling me.' "
Redman has played that way most of the time since he arrived from Bowie as an unheralded, undrafted rookie in 2009. He has earned a larger role and said he was told he will get a series each half, do the short-yardage stuff everywhere but on the goal line (when Rashard Mendenhall stays in) and play a lot on third downs.
"Hopefully, I'll get a little more of the load," Redman said.
No football player ever looked to be in more pain than Byron Leftwich when he left the field screaming after a bone in his upper left arm was snapped in two Aug. 27 at Heinz Field.
Leftwich said it did not just look that way. The pain was so excruciating, it went straight to his head.
"When I got up initially, I thought I had a concussion," Leftwich said. "I don't know if it was the shock from the pain or what ... I don't remember being on the field. I kind of came to when they were taking X-rays, that's how much pain I was in. It was a different feeling for me, I wanted to throw up, man, I wanted to just pass out.
"A lot of people around here consider me a tough guy, but I've told them it was the worst feeling I ever had in my life, not just playing football. It was a bad feeling."
Leftwich, who was placed on injured reserve, had surgery to repair the break in the humerus bone and was told it will take 2-3 months to heal. The only fortunate part for him is that his left arm was broken and he throws right-handed.
Troy Polamalu again declined to talk about his contract negotiations that started back up (and, with time running out, fruitlessly so far), but he did talk about his health and said there are no lingering effects from the Achilles injury that bothered him last season.
"I feel awesome," Polamalu said.
"We'll see how this year turns out, but I couldn't imagine feeling any better than I do now."
First Published September 8, 2011 12:00 am