Courtesy of PNC

Hunter’s Daily Prowl: AB, Rogers steal show

daily-prowl-homistek-dk

____________________

Friday, Dec. 21, 2018

I owe you an apology.

After the Steelers-Patriots game, I had to shift my focus a bit this week before diving back into the Rooney Complex activities today. When I was hired here earlier this month, I said I'd bring a "Swiss Army knife" approach to the site. This week, I had to put away the clippers, bust out the can opener, and put my Steelers coverage on the back burner to help out with some promotional items for the site.

Side note and totally not a sales pitch: If you didn't get 'Cartoon Canon' yet, you genuinely should. My dad got his copy last night, and I've never seen him happier about a gift. He asked about it for weeks, and it fully delivered. You get a copy free with a new subscription or a gift subscription

I share this not to absolve myself from the responsibility of updating this post but to give you another peek behind the curtain where my job duties are concerned. I handle a bit of social media, a bit of sales, a bit of management, a bit of writing, a bit of reporting — you get the picture. Unfortunately, none of that made for an interesting Prowl this week.

But I got the goods for you today.

On a rainy, gross Friday, the Steelers took cover indoors for their final practice before heading to New Orleans to challenge the 12-2 Saints.

I'm growing to really enjoy these practice sessions the more I settle into the routine and the rhythm of it all. Specifically, the things I like best have nothing to do with football. I like watching these guys in their element, focusing and executing within their own bubble and putting their own touches on the monotony of it all. It's still practicebut certain players have a way of making it just a bit more lively for everyone else.

First came Eli Rogers out of the restroom, full of life and energy. Airpods cranked, Rogers grooved across the field before settling beside Josh Dobbs, who warmed up with Mason Rudolph.

Then we were treated to a live performance of The Life Of Eli: Vol. 1 (working title).

Going full a capella — Airpods, remember? — Rogers rapped an entire Jay Electronica tune while Dobbs smiled away, hucking the pigskin back and forth with Rudolph. Not gonna lie, either — it wasn't bad. It was better than another Steelers' hip-hop efforts I heard in the past, oh, I don't know, two years or so.

And speaking of Bells, Antonio Brown took the practice field with a flair only he can pull off: Jingle Cleats.

Oh yes.

At 8-5-1 with a half-game lead over the Ravens in the AFC North, the season is on the line down the stretch for this Steelers squad. That's why moments like Rogers' rap exhibition or Brown's jingle cleats stick out so much to me. In the thick of it all, they're finding ways to keep it loose and fun — then it's all business once the whistle blows. I'm just the rookie here, but that seems like a healthy approach to me.

For the Rooney Complex food update: shrimp po'boys were on the menu today, along with some mixed veggies, pasta, and the usual salad and deli bar options. And yes, the tray of Uncrustables was still there, albeit diminishing.

I stick to a mostly ketogenic diet, so I elected for a plate of shrimp and veggies — hold the hoagie roll — and hit up the salad bar for a little extra somethin' somethin' on the side.

I forgot to take a picture. Whoops.

After the meal, it was time for some locker room action, with Brown holding his weekly scrum and others available for some quick chats per usual.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

“Everybody has an opinion.”

A post shared by DK Pittsburgh Sports (@dkpghsports) on

What else do you expect? Valid question, valid response. That checked out. With Brown's two minutes up, I headed over to Alejandro Villanueva's locker, where the Pro Bowl left tackle was finishing signing a few jerseys. There, I asked him his thoughts on making the Pro Bowl for a second straight year. I mean, it's pretty cool for him, right?

Wrong.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

What does Alejandro Villanueva think of making the #ProBowl for a second straight season? Not much, really. 🤷‍♂️

A post shared by DK Pittsburgh Sports (@dkpghsports) on

Fair play, Mr. Villanueva. I then asked him about his rapid development as a player, which might seem like a strange question, but I feel his progression gets forgotten a bit.

Villanueva played college football as a defensive end, offensive tackle, and wide receiver for the Army Black Knights, never gaining much recognition or hype when it came time for the 2010 NFL draft. He tried out for the Bengals as a tight end and didn't make it. So he went back to military service before trying out again — this time for the Bears.

Nope.

It wasn't until 2014 that Villanueva signed with an NFL franchise, the Eagles, as a defensive end. By late August, he was cut from their roster. Eight days later, the Steelers swooped in, signed Villanueva to their practice squad, moved him to the offensive line, and the rest is currently playing out before our eyes.

"I think that Coach Munchak and Coach Sarrett are excellent coaches that give me a lot of confidence for the games," Villanueva told me. "They usually have very good words of encouragement throughout my career. It’s been real easy to play with them, great people. I have nothing but the best to say about both of them.”

You gotta love the humility there.

After the locker room scrums, it was time to head home for a bit more writing, then it's into the weekend. Dale Lolley, Dejan Kovacevic, and Matt Sunday will be live on the ground in New Orleans, while I'll man the desk remotely here from Pittsburgh.

Stay tuned for all that coverage. I have a feeling it's going to be just a little busy Sunday.

____________________

Monday, Dec. 17, 2018

A week of practice, preparation, and game planning led to this.

Steelers vs. Patriots.

Heinz Field.

Sunday's showdown marked my first experience covering an NFL game, which, in retrospect, is kind of like taking your driver's license test in a Ferrari. I'm not mad about it.

I left early, just as the 1 p.m. games kicked off, assuming I'd suffer at least one hiccup finding where I needed to be.

[caption id="attachment_739761" align="aligncenter" width="555"]Heinz-field-steelers-patriots The calm before the storm (Hunter Homistek / DKPS)[/caption]

I got through the press gate, my bag passed inspection, I bumped into Jason Gildon (who looks like he could still play, FYI) and I hopped into the elevator, going four floors up before finding my spot — right here:

[caption id="attachment_739758" align="aligncenter" width="532"]Steelers-Patriots-heinz-field A view from the press box. (Hunter Homistek / DKPS)[/caption]

That was surprisingly simple. With two hours to kill before kickoff, I did what the rest of the early-bird media members did: I hit up the media dinner down the hall.

Last week, I bragged about the food at the Rooney Complex (especially those Uncrustables — oh, those Uncrustables). The spread set up for media inside Heinz Field didn't disappoint either. Prime rib, salads, fingerling potatoes, a nacho bar, assorted sandwiches, water, pop, coffee — take what you will.

Belly full, I settled in for the game. I'm sure you watched it. I'm sure you read about it in the aftermath. So I'll spare you game details and instead share with you the unique dynamic of the press box.

Rows upon rows of media members sit perched inside this glass castle, watching the action below. It's an excellent view. But what's strange — or not, if you're in journalism — is the strictly enforced code of conduct. We all care about football. We're all there because something about the sport draws us in on some level. For some, the passion may run deeper, but there's something there for every media member.

And yet, we watch in near-silence. No cheering. Minimal reactions. There's a grumble here and there — did Ben really almost just throw that pick?! — and there's the occasional question (Anybody see who made that tackle?) but for the most part, it's head down, do your work.

Which is why we're there, so it's not unexpected. There's just something funny about taking a cluster of 100-plus media members, herding them into a box, giving them the perfect position to watch a high-stakes football game, and then telling them, "Oh, yeah, but try not to act like this is really freakin' cool." 

Spoiler alert: It was pretty cool.

In the end, the Steelers won, and we were escorted downstairs for some post-game interviews, where I sat in on press conferences from Mike Tomlin, Ben Roethlisberger, and Jaylen Samuels. After listening to them all week at the Rooney Complex leading into this game, it was nice to hear the follow-up, where they reflected on the work put in, the strategies devised, and the plans executed.

I particularly loved Tomlin discussing the decision to send out Chris Boswell for a 48-yard field goal attempt late in the game. The decision, to fans and media alike, was questionable at best.

Tomlin, however, never wavered.

That's some serious trust. For a man in Boswell who has struggled mightily this year, that vote of confidence — coupled with the kick actually going through the uprights — might just be the spark he needed to turn around his 2018 campaign.

After the pressers, I ran back upstairs to write a little about Samuels' standout performance, then it was back home to write a couple more pieces and to begin this Daily Prowl anew.

The players have off tomorrow and nothing is scheduled at the Rooney Complex, so Tuesday will be our next major update. I'll still have something for you tomorrow though, likely some deeper reflection on tonight's game and the experience as a whole.

For now, feel free to ask questions, leave a comment, let me know what you'd like to see from me moving forward, or anything in between.

I look forward to catching up with you all for another week of fun and adventure as the team in black and gold prepares for New Orleans.

To continue reading, log into your account: