America is the place where stories of redemption are valued and cherished. In Latrobe, a story of redemption is possibly taking place before our very eyes. The release of fan favorite Antwaan Randle El, a foot injury to solid 2nd year player Emmanuel “Manny” Sanders, and Hines Ward’s nagging thumb has given an opportunity to one very enigmatic character that is still on the Steelers’ roster: WR Limas Sweed.
James Walker of ESPN.com has reported that Manny’s injury will cause him to miss the next three weeks, but leave him ready to play once the regular season begins. In his blurb about the injury, Walker discussed how these injuries to Sanders and Ward could allow for 4th year player/2nd Round bust Limas Sweed to make the roster and receive significant playing time in 2011. While reading Walker’s piece, I was somewhat shocked because I had just assumed Sweed had been cut and lost in the shuffle of the excellent WR’s that the Steelers have had over the last few years. However, I began to think about Sweed’s rocky career in Pittsburgh and imagined how incredibly satisfying it would be to see him take advantage of a chance like this. In the spirit of redemption and taking advantage of second chances, I thought that I would take this opportunity to give a rundown and analysis of Sweed’s brief professional career, describe his professional struggles, and forecast his future in the Steel City.
Limas’ Beginnings in the Black and Gold
After the first day of the 2008 N.F.L. Draft I was ecstatic about the future of the Steelers’ Offense. Admit it Steeler Nation, you all were stoked with what happened on Day 1. It was in the first two rounds where the Steelers had grabbed two apparent steals. The first one was Mendy, who for some reason had slipped all the way to #23, and the second was thought to be an even bigger bargain: WR Limas Sweed. Even until Draft Day, Sweed was considered by many draft analysts and fans alike to be a mid to late 1st Round pick. He dominated The Big XII with his size (6′ 4”), speed, and hands, helped Texas win a National Championship in 2005, and it was only thought to be a foot injury that kept him out of the 1st round.
Picking Sweed at the time was considered to be advantageous to the Steelers for two important reasons. First, Hines Ward at the time was considered to be getting “long in the tooth,” and San-tokio was entering the third year of his five year rookie contract, and if he had a breakout season (which he eventually did) Pittsburgh might not be able to pay him when his contract eventually expired. Thus, depth and overall help at WR in the coming years was needed. Second, during that offseason Big Ben had complained to the Front Office about going out and getting a “tall” Wide Receiver. Well, not only did the organization draft Ben a “tall” target, Sweed himself could be brought along and at the very least be ready to assume the 2nd or 3rd Wide Receiver spot in 2009. In essence (and rightfully so), the Steelers thought they had accomplished the cliched “killing of two birds with one stone” with the selection of Sweed. Sadly for Limas, things did not go according to plan from get-go.
The 2008 year was one spent on Special Teams and the bench for Limas. He only recorded 6 catches for 64 yards and saw very little reps with the Offense. For the most part, nobody much noticed or cared. This was because Nate Washington was enjoying a very effective season as the 3rd WR and speedy deep threat. All Limas had to do was keep developing and wait his turn. However, Sweed got noticed for all the wrong reasons in the AFCC Game against Baltimore. For the sake of brevity I won’t recount the memory of him dropping that lollipop of a deep ball that would have put the Steelers up 20-7 heading into the half and him lying on the field afterwards faking an injury like a 9 year old (a bonehead move that cost the team a valuable T.O. in the process). I will remember how he laid out Corey Ivy on the next play though with a vicious block that sprung Miller for a big gain. At the time I ultimately figured that Sweed was mentally tough enough to respond after a rookie gaffe/difficult situation and move forward. Unfortunately, my forecast was completely wrong, and disaster for Limas Sweed reared its ugly head early in the 2009 season.
After the Super Bowl XLIII triumph the Steelers were riding high. They also were willing to let some Free Agents leave that off-season, most notably Nate Washington who inked a huge contract with Tennessee. I personally didn’t mind, because Nate was an effective player for the Steelers, but his butterfingers and status as a #3 WR did not warrant a $27 million dollar pay-day. Thus, it was a consensus opinion that the #3 WR job would be Sweed’s to lose entering training camp without “Nasty Nate” there. In fact, that pre-season Sweed looked very good and displayed a solid ability to not only catch the ball, but get open as well.
Disaster struck again though for Sweed in the form of two things: The Cincy game and the drop, and a speedster out of Ole Miss named Mike Wallace. In Week 3 the Steelers not only lost a heartbreaker to the Bengals (the first of many 4th Quarter bed wetting performances by the D in 2009), but Sweed dropped a wide-open and cake TD that would have sealed the game in the 2nd Half. It was in that game also where Mike Wallace burst onto the scene with a fantastic catch of a Big Ben Bomb that would be the first of many we are currently accustomed to seeing now. After that game and in the coming weeks it was abundantly clear that Wally became the go to 3rd WR and Sweed was relegated to Special Teams and the bench again. In the wake of that horrendous drop, rumors during the later stages of that season swirled regarding Sweed’s mental health and confidence. Sweed’s statline that season listed a dismal 1 catch for 5 yards. Despite the dumpster fire of a 2009 season, when the 2010 campaign kicked off Sweed still had a chance to show the team what he could do, but like the previous two seasons misfortune struck Limas again.
An Achilles injury during training camp wiped out Sweed’s 2010 campaign. Moreover, Sweed’s injury and San-tokio’s trade to New York allowed for the emergence of Rookies Manny Sanders and Antonio Brown. Their stellar play coupled with Ward’s and Wally’s gave the Steelers 4 solid WR’s and an awesome dual threat TE in Heath Miller in 2010. And it was this receiving quintet that helped to carry the Steeler offense within one drive of a Super Bowl title this past February.
Flash forward to the present. Now heading into 2011 Sweed is down to his final shot of making the team. The release of Randle El and the injuries to Sanders and Ward have given him a chance to really shine. Moreover, Sweed is in the last year of his rookie deal, so it is in his best interest to do not only make the team, but perform well if he wants to keep playing in the N.F.L. Now it’s up to Limas to finally capitalize on an opportunity and at long last give Big Ben his “tall” target that has eluded him since Plaxico left.
Will Limas make the team? I hope so. Sweed’s story is representative of how the N.F.L. is a League that will pass one by if they aren’t able to answer the bell when their number is called. If it wasn’t for bad luck this poor guy would have none whatsoever. However, it is all up to Sweed to hold off any and all competition to make the team. Now he is healthy, he appears mentally ready, and he’s got his shot. It would be nice to see Ben throwing easy Lollipop fades into the end zone from the 10 yard line to a 6′ 4” guy, wouldn’t it? It’s time to make good on the investment made by the organization in 2008. So give ‘em all you got Limas, and prove those doubters wrong!