DEJAN KOVACEVIC, DK ON PITTSBURGH SPORTS
A weekly feature aimed at rounding up a whole lot of odds and ends from a whole lot of time spent around our local teams …
• No player will see a more elevated role in the Penguins’ training camp than Simon Despres. And, truth be told, no matter what’s asked of Beau Bennett, it won’t even be close.
Mario Lemieux’s words in my interview with him this summer, in which he openly lamented that neither Ray Shero nor Dan Bylsma gave Despres a chance to stick in the lineup, apparently have resonated powerfully through the organization. As they should have. Eddie Johnston recently told me that some inside the team believed Despres was “absolutely our best defenseman at times,” and he’s right. Despres took control of the game for long stretches at both ends. And, counter to what the coaches advised, he actually did his best when he didn’t keep it simple. He did his best when he felt he was needed to step up and stand out, just as he has been throughout his career pre-NHL.
So why didn’t Despres ever stick here?
Put bluntly, the coaching staff didn’t like him, didn’t think he was mentally sharp enough to handle the NHL positionally.
Now, finally, we’ll see.
• You knew Bylsma had been offered the Florida job after being fired by the Penguins — turned it down because he wanted the Panthers to match what he’s making right now to do nothing — but did you know he was similarly offered by Carolina?
He won’t be out of work long.
• All I’ll say on this: The Russell Martin camp expressed some surprise at a couple points made in the Thursday column on this site. They didn’t dispute the points’ veracity. Just expressed surprise.
• Don’t overthink why the Pirates make puzzling decisions such as keeping Vin Mazzaro in the minors while watching Stolmy Pimentel basically put a blowtorch to every game in which he pitched. There’s long been an internal hyper-angst over 40-man roster decisions, one that unfortunately has gotten the best of them even when the clear priority should be now. In this case, Neal Huntington and Ray Searage liked enough of what they saw of Pimentel in long relief that they thought he could become a starter.
For an organization that’s generally pretty sound at assigning value, this makes no sense. The Pimentel types are a dime a dozen. Even if someone claims Pimentel, now that he’ll be designated for assignment to clear space for fellow train wreck John Axford, the same project can be attempted with another pitcher with similarly low cost and risk at some other point.
Just one of the many rebuilding-mentality thought processes that some in the front office still need to discard.
• If Martin isn’t signed, Neil Walker will basically be able to name his price. Seriously, he could ask to have PNC Park, Pine-Richland High School and maybe the Point Park Fountain renamed in his honor while he’s at it.
• So Le’Veon Bell is set for a first full season as the Steelers’ feature back, and they go out and get LeGarrette Blount and set up their offense so that Blount could see a whole lot of carries?
Between that scenario and Blount’s volatile personality, this had the makings of trouble.
Well, it’s been anything but. The two were virtually inseparable at the training camp which officially broke yesterday at Saint Vincent College, on and off the field. They spent time talking, ate together, went out, even engaged in a daily, seriously spirited round of play-boxing.
All in fun.
“I’m a guy who likes being around that type of personality. I’m an emotional guy, too,” Bell was telling me the other day. “It’s kind of crazy, but from the first day he got here, we just kind of jelled. We’re kind of the same. We’re both outgoing. We both joke a lot. And he’s really emotional about the game, same way I am. I’m telling you, man, I’m glad he’s here.”
• So one day Mike Tomlin rips Martavis Bryant, the fourth-round wide receiver who has a legit shot at playing time, and the next — the Wednesday practice with the Bills — Bryant tears it up.
In case you’re wondering why coaches do that stuff.
On that same note, though, it would be amazing, if possible, to fully determine what percentage of what Tomlin says to the media is just flat-out insincere.
• Good dude: David DeCastro.
• Paul Chryst advised me before Pitt camp to keep an eye on Todd Thomas, and the coach needn’t have bothered. No. 8 has been impossible to miss. The senior linebacker out of Beaver Falls, once among Tom Lemming’s No. 68 prospect in the nation, has stepped up more than anyone on the South Side these past two weeks. And he’s done it with a snarl, too: On one 11-on-11 drill Thursday, he leveled — and I mean leveled — two blockers. And as those blockers were reeling on the ground, he let out a loud, primal scream.
Good for Thomas, because the Panthers will need him to be a lot better than their fourth-leading tackler, as he was a year ago.
• Asked Starling Marte the other night how much he and the Pirates feed off the energy at PNC Park, and he gave far better than the stock answer: “For me, it helps so much because I know they believe in me. I feel like when I go to hit, they have the confidence. They know I’m going to do the job. That’s what I feel.”
Good stuff, huh?
Marte loses his focus sometimes on the field, but this is a passionate kid.