Steelers' Sweed struggling with confidence
A week earlier, he had dropped a much easier pass, in the University of Texas' season opener against lowly North Texas.
But against powerhouse Ohio State in the second game of the 2005 season, Limas Sweed made an acrobatic catch in the corner of the end zone that helped determine the national championship.
Sweed's twisting grab of a Vince Young pass while tumbling backward late in the fourth quarter gave Texas a 25-22 win over the Buckeyes. It also gave Sweed incalculable confidence.
Four years later, Sweed has reached another crossroads — similar to what he faced after the North Texas game.
Sometime between that spectacular reception against Ohio State and becoming the Steelers' second-round draft pick in 2008, Sweed's confidence left him — just as he once left defensive backs in his wake.
But those close to Sweed sense brighter days could be forthcoming.
"What Limas is experiencing, I am very familiar with,'' said Glen West, who coached Sweed at Brenham High, a Class 4A school in central Texas. "What I've seen more than anything is what I've always known about him. He wants to do so well, he puts pressure on himself. He just needs to relax and let it happen."
Football became easier for Sweed after his clutch touchdown reception kept Texas undefeated in the midst of the Longhorns' championship season.
Whether Sweed will get another chance Sunday afternoon against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field is open for debate.
After dropping a wide-open touchdown pass in last year's AFC Championship Game, after dropping another wide-open touchdown pass this season in the third game against Cincinnati, and after dropping a third-down pass thrown to him last week against Detroit, coach Mike Tomlin is noncommittal about giving Sweed another chance to justify his selection as the 53rd pick in last year's draft.
"Last week, Limas provided us a little more assistance in special teams," Tomlin said about whether Sweed or Shaun McDonald will get the nod at No. 4 receiver. "That adds value when you determine who plays for you."
Sweed said he understands his predicament and what he must do to rebuild the team's confidence in him.
"It's my job to make the catch, and I didn't — plain and simple," Sweed said of his big drop against Cincinnati that could have been the difference in a 23-20 loss. "The bottom line is when you get in there, you have to make something happen in order to stay in there."
There was a time in the not-too-distant past when Sweed's raw potential earned raves from the Steelers' coaching staff. In fact, Sweed's 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame, uncommonly large for a receiver, still makes him an intriguing player.
"He's a talented player," said Steelers tackle Tony Hills, who was Sweed's teammate all four years at Texas. "There's not too many 6-4 guys that can outrun smaller defensive backs."
Another former Texas teammate, Tampa Bay Bucs defensive lineman Tim Crowder, suggests that most of Sweed's problems are self-inflicted.
"He has unbelievable talent, but it's always been mental for him," Crowder said. "There's nothing really he can't do, but when you go out there thinking about dropping the ball, that's when you don't have success."
Chicago Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake, who recruited Sweed to Texas out of high school, said Sweed has to "find a way to get his confidence back."
"I saw a guy coming out of high school with a lot of size, who had the speed to be a really good player," said Drake, who was also Steelers receiver Hines Ward's position coach at Georgia. "They didn't throw the ball a lot, and he was a tight end in high school. He didn't play wide receiver there, so the position was new to him."
Still, Sweed, who was confident enough to ask former Texas receiver Roy Williams if he could wear his No. 4 with the Longhorns, finished second in school history in touchdown catches (behind Williams) and sixth in career receptions despite playing in only six games as a senior because of a wrist injury.
In hindsight, Sweed's football career is right back where it started at Texas.
"I think a lot of the things he experienced with the Steelers he experienced at Texas," West said. "He dropped a pass against North Texas in his first home game in his sophomore year, and there was some question about him and is he ever going to get over the hump. The next week, he made the big catch against Ohio State. When he did that, everything changed.
"There comes a point in everyone's career where there's that moment they define themselves as a player — or don't. I foresee he's at that crossroads right now. I think that because of his character and work ethic he will overcome that."