Summers ready to shine with Steelers

Former UNLV running back Frank Summers sat bare-chested by his apartment pool on a recent Sunday, taking advantage of the brief time he had to lounge around.

He had a 6 a.m. flight out of Las Vegas the next day, and just the fact that he was getting on a plane to Sarasota, Fla., showed his commitment to doing all he could to not only make the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, but to fulfill their expectations of him — and his expectations of himself.

Summers is working out in Sarasota in preparation for training camp, where players report Friday. Sarasota also was where he went to prepare for an impressive pro-day performance that prompted the Steelers to draft him in the fifth round earlier this year.

“I think that’s the best thing

for me, to pay attention to detail on my body and work on specific things,” Summers said. “I was successful going there before, so why not give it another go before the next most important audition of my life, which is camp.”

The Super Bowl champion Steelers need Summers to come in and make an impact. They have been searching for a short-yardage back since Jerome Bettis retired following the 2005 season.

The lack of a dependable short-yardage rusher nearly cost the Steelers this year’s Super Bowl. They twice failed to score touchdowns near the goal line, settling for 18- and 21-yard field goals in their 27-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

But filling that role, as crucial as it is, isn’t Summers’ only path to making the Steelers. Coach Mike Tomlin told the 5-foot-9-inch, 243-pound Summers that his work on special teams would be crucial.

“He said it’s a very, very high commodity in the NFL for an offensive player to be able to tackle,” said Summers, who played on special teams last year for the Rebels. “He said they’re very rare … (and) when one does come around, they’re very special. He said I have that opportunity and capability of being special in that area.”

Summers has an idea of what to expect in training camp. He visited the Steelers before the draft and saw the record six Lombardi Trophies.

He then went back for minicamp and organized team activities. Summers struggled to pick up the playbook in minicamp because the terminology was so different from what he was used to.

“I had a bunch of assignment errors, but it comes with the territory,” Summers said. “You’re trying to learn a completely different language. You know everything they’re saying, what it means in English. But in their language, you know nothing they’re saying.”

Instead of being disheartened, though, Summers concentrated on getting down the plays in OTAs to where every other day was a good day.

Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons told Summers he went through a similar experience as a rookie two years ago and to not let the tough times bother him.

Summers said his new teammates were welcoming during OTAs, which included practice, work in the weight room and a series of meetings.

Running backs coach Kirby Wilson said Summers will be much better prepared for the rigors of camp now that he has gone through the difficulties of minicamp and OTAs.

“That’s why we throw so much at him, like it’s spring training,” Wilson said. “He’ll be fine. He’s his own worst critic.

“I’m excited for him. I can’t wait. I think he’s really going to contribute to this football team. I’m glad we got him.”

Wilson said he was particularly impressed not only that Summers asked questions, but “the right kind of questions.” Summers would ask about details such as seeing where a cornerback was lined up on particular plays.

“He wasn’t afraid to ask it in front of the veterans,” Wilson said. “That’s what they liked about him.”

The time in Pittsburgh wasn’t all work. Summers and other rookies went to a Pirates game and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, about 21/2 hours northwest in Canton, Ohio.

When they walked in, Summers saw pictures of former UNLV coach John Robinson from his days guiding the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams.

Summers can’t even begin to think about his Hall of Fame prospects. He has enough to worry about right now in just making the team. Tomlin already told Summers his biggest challenge will be proving he can block Steelers linebacker and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison.

After OTAs, Summers returned to Las Vegas to work out with his former UNLV teammates, but realized he needed a different regimen to prepare for the NFL season.

At UNLV, Summers went into last season having dropped 10 pounds to get down to 230 for an extra burst of speed.

He’s taking the opposite approach to the NFL, having added back the weight plus a little more for a season that can stretch well beyond 20 games, including preseason and the playoffs.

So he went back to Optimum Performance Training, Inc. in Sarasota.

Summers has been putting in two hours of on-the-field conditioning in 80- to 90-degree temperatures and swamplike humidity, and two hours in the gym building his strength.

“We’re working on getting him ready to be giving hits and taking hits,” Optimum Performance owner Rich Lansky said.

Summers also undergoes a one-hour daily “recovery workout” in a tub, and sees a massage therapist twice a week and a chiropractor once or twice a week. And he has access to dietitians and trainers.

Saturday was his day off because Lansky wanted Summers accustomed to Sundays being a work day.

“I find with most players who have success in the league, it ends up being up to them,” Lansky said. “He wants to go the extra steps.”

No one questions Summers’ work ethic. He knows what is on the line.

“That’s what this is, it’s an opportunity,” Summers said. “It’s an opportunity I want to grab and fully take advantage of. I’d hate to let this opportunity slip away from me.”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914.

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