Rookie Review

Rainey with game-winner (Robbins/Getty Image)

Jim Wexell focused on the rookies during his tape review of the Steelers' 24-17 win Sunday night over the Cincinnati Bengals. It starts with the big man -- Mike Adams -- joining the band.

Unlike most Steelers fans I enjoy listening to Cris Collinsworth broadcast a game. I think he's one of the better analysts out there, but he did get one wrong Sunday night.

In reviewing a block by Steelers rookie right tackle Mike Adams, Collinsworth, the NBC game analyst said, "That was one of the first times tonight that Adams did not get help."

Collinsworth said it a couple of times, but, really, Adams received very little help from tight ends and running backs during his first career start for the Steelers.

On my crude tally sheet during a tape review – which is entirely unofficial – I had Adams pass-blocking on 21 dropbacks (no screens or now passes) by Ben Roethlisberger.

Of those 21, I had Adams getting help from tight ends Heath Miller or David Paulson only 3 times. And even though Roethlisberger had running backs at the ready a handful of times, none of them needed to step up and help Adams with a chip of his man.

I'm a tough grader, and of the 21 dropbacks I had Adams allowing pressure 6 times. He officially allowed only a half sack to Robert Geathers, but that sack resulted in a forced fumble and a Bengals touchdown.

It was a bad play, and 6 pressures out of 21 isn't going to force the coaches to keep him on the field, but it really wasn't a bad debut for Adams against the likes of Geathers and primarily Carlos Dunlap. Late in the game Adams even had to pass-block Geno Atkins one-on-one and he got the job done.

Just as in college and in this past preseason, the second-rounder from Ohio State showed that he has the necessary size, length and foot speed to play tackle in the NFL, but he still needs to increase his strength.

In the run game, Adams was beaten for a loss early by Vontaze Burfict, but that was Adams' only obvious run-game miscue. He obliterated middle linebacker Rey Maualuga on Chris Rainey's game-winning 11-yard touchdown run and also made the key block on a 15-yard gain late in the game by Jonathan Dwyer.

The other clear positive of Adams' game is his ability to get out in front of screen and reverses. He did that three times, and with the best mobility of any Steelers tackle since Marvel Smith that number's bound to increase for coordinator Todd Haley.

Was it a Rookie of the Year performance? No, not quite, but it was a quality start for Adams.

While we're there, let's review the performances of the rest of the rookies:

* First-round pick David DeCastro was on the sideline and has been rehabbing at the South Side practice facility. He should be ready to return soon after the eighth game of the season. Whether he reclaims his status as the starting right guard is unknowable at this point.

* Third-round pick Sean Spence was on the sideline Sunday night and involved in discussion with teammates in several camera shots. I can't find anyone in the locker room who believes that Spence's horrific preseason knee injury is career threatening.

* Fourth-round pick Alameda Taamu, of course, is in the middle of a two-game suspension. I've been told two weeks was the agreed-upon punishment because anything longer would have brought the union sniffing around, and no one wants DeMaurice Smith in the locker room distracting the team over a player who's lucky he wasn't gunned down by cops during his idiotic drunken rampage.

* Rainey, the fifth-round pick, played the best game of his season on Sunday night. He returned the opening kickoff to the 40 and averaged 33.5 yards per each of his four returns. He also scored the aforementioned game-winning touchdown after spending the rest of that drive as an effective decoy.

Rainey carried 4 times for 17 yards, caught 1 pass for 8 yards, and hustled downfield to make a key block on Antonio Brown's 21-yard catch-and-run that converted a second-and-16 in the first half.

* Paulson, one of two seventh-round picks on the active roster, took part in 18 snaps and played on the four main special teams. He made one special-teams tackle and also made a big block on a long Brown return that was called back.

As a tight end, Paulson was asked to take part in all facets: run block, pass block (one-on-one with Geathers), motion as an H-back, get out in front of screens, help Adams, run patterns, and he even caught a 7-yard pass that had Steeler Nation shouting out "Heath" while he was running. Paulson was also out in front blocking for Brown on his perfect-but-incomplete throwback pass to Baron Batch.

* Will Johnson isn't officially a rookie, but in his first year with any NFL team the fullback continues to impress with his lead blocking, not only on offense but on kickoff returns as well.

Most of Johnson's blocks are audible, particularly the thunderous block he threw on Roddrick Muckelroy during a return in the middle of the second quarter. Johnson also had his first career carry, which went for 5 yards during one of his 20 snaps.

* Undrafted rookies Robert Golden and Adrian Robinson played only on special teams. Golden played on all four of the primary teams, while Robinson played with the punt return and kickoff teams. He left the game with a concussion on the Steelers' final return.

* Al Woods, like Johnson, isn't a rookie, and he only played one snap – on the first drive – but he made the tackle on that play in place of Ziggy Hood.

* Batch isn't officially a rookie, either, but losing a sure touchdown pass "in the lights" isn't going to help him change that rookie status in his teammates' minds. Batch has had better games, and will have better ones in the future.

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