The back of his neck, his face and fingertips. Those were the only parts of Steelers’ RB Coach Kirby Wilson’s skin that were exposed to the open air Thursday as he took the field with his fellow coaches and players in Latrobe. You see, one who is recovering from second and third degree burns can’t be exposed to the sun – so Kirby needs to not only wear tons of sun screen, but also cover as much of his body as possible. Less than seven months after being severely burned in a house fire, Wilson not only walked onto the field, he jogged.
‘You don’t know how much it means to us. For us players who know Kirby and have a relationship with him, it truly is special. To see him walking around and kind of getting a little jog in almost brought a tear to my eye.’ ~ Ben Roethlisberger
And so for Wilson, today signifies a large step in the healing process. Wilson’s odyssey from critical condition to jogging on a football field with his teammates is nothing short of inspirational. As the summer months wane into fall, so to will Wilson’s burns turn into complete scar tissue. The man who, as rookie RB Chris Rainey put it, ‘cheated death’ will move on and continue coaching as his focus lazers in on this complex roster of running backs.
As one his own continues to heal from ACL surgery, Wilson must distinguish who is ‘the stud’ of the group and will quite literally carry the running game for the first half, if not the entirety, of the season. Wilson believes most of these guys – Batch, Dwyer, Clay and Rainey will have to make their way through special teams first if they want to get reps at the RB spot. Let’s just put it this way, it won’t be easy. Even Redman is questionable in Kirby’s eyes because he, ‘really (hasn’t) done it over the long hurl.’
The healing doesn’t stop there. This summer the ‘healing’ of the Pittsburgh Steelers ripples throughout the organization.
Wilson had his tragic accident just two days before the Steelers faced off and lost to the Denver Broncos in that surreal Wild Card game. No player ever spoke of Wilson’s accident, near death experience, hospitalization or absence from the sidelines as an emotional excuse as to why they lost against the Broncos. Just because they didn’t say anything doesn’t mean it didn’t weigh on each and every member of that team that day. They lost that game, and they almost lost a coach and dear friend. That Wild Card game was a very tough loss for a team that took its licks and verbal abuse during the course of the season, yet still ended up being rated the #1 defense in the league. The wound of that loss against Tim Tebow and his Broncos runs deeply, and only wins this season will help that wound to scar over.
The offense will be healing this summer after several years of bruises from a Bruce Arians styled offense. An offense that was rated 21st in point scoring last season will look to improve in the Red Zone under their new coach Todd Haley. Ben Roethlisberger will continue to heal from his ankle injury and thousands of bumps and bruises caused by 40 sacks last season. A newly youth injected offensive line should be the right prescription for what ails #7.
Big Ben isn’t the only one who finds himself under the healing spell of St. Vincent College. LT Max Starks is back after knee surgery and will look to mentor rookie Mike Adams at that position during camp and maybe even give him a run for his money. Willie Colon is healed again from injury and hopefully can stay healthy for the majority of the season. Casey Hampton is making his way back, but quite possibly, rookie DT Alameda Ta’amu might heal the entirety of this defensive line if he can fill the shoes of Big Snack.
The healing is all over the campus of St. Vincent – Physical, emotional and mental. Camp truly is a magical place for Steelers and Steeler Nation. And this year it all starts with a man named Wilson as the true inspiration and catalyst for what will be a summer, and quite frankly, an entire season of healing. The emotional stakes seem higher already. Steeler Nation is humming with the energy of anticipation. Can you feel the rumble in the distance?
Or maybe that’s just some guy in a beard showing up to camp in a tractor…….
Topics: Alameda Ta'amu, Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Arians, Casey Hampton, Chris Rainey, Isaac Redman, Kirby Wilson, Mike Adams, Mike Tomlin, Rashard Mendenhall, St. Vincent Colllege, Steelers, Todd Haley, Willie Colon