AFC North: Pittsburgh Pirates
Everyone was on their best behavior in the past while I've been away. But just in case, I will offer another warning.
If my substitute says our community was too rowdy, I will turn this space into an AFC North baseball blog for the remainder of the summer. The focus will be on the Pittsburgh Pirates, Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians. (No Reds. They're in first place.)
So if you're not interested in wall-to-wall coverage on Ross Ohlendorf's pitching, Cesar Izturis' hitting or "Manny Acta ball," I suggest that everyone plays nice on the blog this week.
See you soon.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
We get a lot of comments, jokes and opinions in our AFC North inbox.
For instance, here is one person's view of Pittsburgh Steelers fans:
Tom from Brooklyn NY writes: Hi James love the blog. I was just wondering why every steeler fan that writes you a comment feels the need to say they are a fan for life? Do they need to keep the front up? I mean everyone knows the Browns have the better, more loyal fans. Just look how everyone in pittsburgh forgot about the pirates.
First, notice the lower casing of the words "Steeler," "Pittsburgh" and "Pirates." Yet the word "Browns" is properly capitalized by Tom. I'm sure that's no coincidence.
But beyond the intentional jabs, does Tom bring up a good point with Steelers and Browns fans?
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
PITTSBURGH -- Steelers kicker Jeff Reed has seen more curveballs in Pittsburgh than your typical Pirates slugger.
This season, Reed has had a change of long-snappers, following a knee injury to teammate Greg Warren.
|AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar|
|While his holders have rotated, Steelers kicker Jeff Reed has been a constant.|
Add the fact that the field conditions in Heinz Field are getting uglier by the day and Pittsburgh's offense has sputtered, and it's amazing that Reed's kicking remains the one constant.
The seven-year veteran is quietly having the best season of his career for the 7-3 Steelers. In his most recent outing, Reed kicked through snowy conditions and made three clutch field goals during an 11-10 victory over the San Diego Chargers. He is 16-of-17 on field goals this year, and his percentage (94.1) is fourth in the NFL among kickers with at least 14 attempts.
Most fans simply watch Reed kick on game day but fail to understand the work needed to seamlessly make the transition to a new long-snapper (rookie Jared Retkofsky) and three different holders in one year.
"When you talk about adversity for a kicker," Reed said, "it doesn't get much more adverse than this."
Reed is accustomed to curveballs. He got first got a taste of the unpredictability that is the NFL during his rookie year in 2002.
Following a solid college career at the University of North Carolina, Reed went undrafted and was unable to land on an NFL roster. So the Charlotte native went back to the Tar Heel state to work on a dairy farm cleaning debris.
"Everyone thinks I was a farmer, which is not true," Reed said, smiling. "I was just working on a farm for a friend who was actually a true farmer."
Reed then took the winding path to Pittsburgh.
An injury to former Steelers kicker Todd Peterson earned Reed a tryout for the Steelers in November 2002. Pittsburgh was the seventh team Reed tried out for that year.
It was a typical winter mosh pit at Heinz Field when Reed joined three other kickers to try out. Through sleet and approximately 30-degree weather, Reed had perhaps his worst kicking display before an NFL team.
"It was cool to get a tryout but you're thinking, 'Man, why couldn't it be a different day?'" Reed said. "We all kicked about equally. ...We all missed some that we should have made and were slipping all over the place."
Reed admits that none of the kickers were impressive enough to earn the job, but he got the nod that day. Reed said former Steelers coach Bill Cowher still jokes with him occasionally, saying he has no idea why he chose the rookie kicker six years ago.
But Cowher's intuition is still paying dividends. Reed has a career 83-percent success rate on field goals, despite kicking half his games at home on arguably the toughest surface in the NFL. The past two years Reed has made 39 of 42 field-goal attempts (92.8 percent) for Pittsburgh.
Some kickers can be outcasts in their locker rooms, but Reed is not one of them. When he arrived six years ago, teammates and coaches didn't know his name. Now he's a fan favorite. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger often praises Reed, saying earlier this year that he has "the utmost confidence in him." Reed also was chosen to be a captain this year by his peers.
Without a doubt, it has been a long road for the Steelers' kicker who, after college, was working on the farm for $12 per hour.
But in a blue-collar town like Pittsburgh, Reed is an ideal fit.
"It would be great to be a first-round pick ... but I kind of like it better when you have to earn what you got," Reed said. "Coach Cowher's saying was 'It's hard to get there, but it's harder to stay.' If that's not reality, then I don't know what is."