By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Steelers appeared to concentrate more on special teams during Saturday’s two mini-camp practices at the UPMC Sports Complex, and there were a lot of players getting opportunities.
The punt-return group included incumbent starter Stefan Logan, veteran Antwaan Randle El, third-round draft pick Emmanuel Sanders and seventh-year pro Mewelde Moore.
“There’s a lot of competition there,” Sanders said. “Punt returns and kickoffs, that’s another way for me to make the team, but I want to make it as a receiver, too. And there’s definitely a lot of competition there.”
Hines Ward and Mike Wallace are the front-runners for the top two receiver spots, while Randle El likely wasn’t signed to later be cut. Sanders, sixth-round pick Antonio Brown, third-year player Limas Sweed, eighth-year pro Arnaz Battle, Logan and young free agents Jason Chery, Brandon London and Tyler Grisham are battling for the backup spots.
The Steelers are likely to take five receivers into the season, like last year, when Logan was the fifth guy but rarely did more than special teams. Sanders, initially, appears to be a player who could fill several roles with special teams included. But the knock on him is that he was a receiver in SMU’s run-and-shoot scheme, so adapting to the NFL will be difficult.
“It’s always been said that run-and-shoot quarterbacks and receivers can’t make it in the NFL, but it’s already been proven wrong for quarterbacks,” Sanders said. “And I’m about to prove that it’s wrong about receivers, too.
“First, I have to learn the playbook. I caught a lot of short passes in college and turned them into long plays with a lot of yards after the catch. That’s what I can do, for sure, but I also can catch the ball downfield. I just have to prove it.”
Wallace certainly can replace Holmes as the Steelers’ big-play wideout, and he has shown a penchant for getting deep during the opening two days at mini-camp. The only issue has been with timing on the long throws from the club’s quarterbacks.
Starter Byron Leftwich under-threw Wallace Friday and made sure that didn’t happen again Saturday. He cut loose with nearly a 60-yard bomb to Wallace on a post pattern that the receiver had no chance to run under.
“I was just trying to prove a point,” Leftwich said, referring to his ability to throw the long ball.
“That won’t happen again,” Wallace responded, meaning that he won’t be overthrown like that again.
Brown, who is roommates with Sanders, had the catch of the day. He dove on a sideline toss from Dennis Dixon and got his hands under the ball for the catch. For the most part though, the receivers had a rough day.
Logan ran a sharp hook route near the sideline in the afternoon, caught the pass and spun toward the middle of the field for a breakaway score. Linebacker Keyaron Fox whiffed, as Logan faked him out on the play.
One final mini-camp practice is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Sunday, but the players likely will be called to the field and then dismissed after a final meeting. There was a lot of instruction in this mini-camp, and the stage was set for more work to be done in Organized Team Activities (OTAs) beginning May 18.