By Dale Grdnic
LATROBE, Pa. — The backups got much more work during Monday afternoon’s training camp practice for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich shared the first-team quarterback duties during one drill.
That would be the third-down, situational session where every play was a third down, but the distance would change from short to long at Mike Tomlin’s discretion. And the fourth-year Steelers head coach liked what he saw.
“(We were) more competition-oriented in the afternoon,” Tomlin said. “So, we had a productive day. … The guys were communicating (during the third-down drill), learning and working together and having an understanding of situational football, chain awareness. So, it was a good sequence of events.
“At this stage, I might not look at it how you might think. Sometimes, I’m just listening for communication and awareness in regard to situational football, and I like what I’m hearing from both sides of the ball. Defensively, formation adjustments and awareness of down and distance. Offensively, identifying who the potential rushers are and redecoration of fronts.”
The Steelers used their dime defense where the defensive backs rotated in and out of the lineup. William Gay, Ryan Mundy, Will Allen, Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis all got some action. For those wondering about the linebackers, James Farrior stayed on the field more times than not.
Roethlisberger connected with Mike Wallace for a first down on third-and-eight. He ran a curl pattern and left cornerback Bryant McFadden scrambling to stay close.
Hines Ward got the ball in the middle of the field and appeared to just make the first down, but Antwaan Randle El got jammed (held) by Gay on the play to nearly mess things up.
Roethlisberger hooked up with Wallace again on a slant, but it appeared to get stopped just short on third-and-nine. His next pass went to second-year wideout Brandon London on a long crossing pattern for a first down, as other receivers rotated into the lineup.
Roethlisberger just missed hitting Emmanuel Sanders on an out route, as the ball was a little high and skipped off his fingertips.
Tyler Grisham also had a pass clank off his hands that would have gone for a first down, but this one was well-thrown by Roethlisberger.
Dennis Dixon slipped into the game and ran left on third-and-four, but was stopped well short. Dixon then displayed arm strength like rarely before by gunning a sideline pass to Isaiah Williams, a first-year player from Maryland. Dixon likely would have been sacked on his final play, but he tossed one in the flat for Mewelde Moore, who ran for a long gain.
The first-team offense returned with Leftwich at the helm, and he hit running back Isaac Redman in stride out of the backfield for a nice gain, but it was just short on third-and-eight. Leftwich then fired one to Randle El across the middle, but once again they came up a bit short on third-and-long.
Leftwich attempted to go to Randle El again, but even his cannon arm couldn’t stick it, as safety Troy Polamalu dove and batted down the pass attempt.
“I thought it went pretty well,” Leftwich said. “We completed some passes, some made it and some were a little short, but we’re getting better. Situational football, things like that are very important, because that’s where Coach Tomlin believes we came up short too often last season. So, we’ll keep working on it.”
During an early team drill, Dixon and Charlie Batch were the quarterbacks, and linebacker Patrick Bailey knifed into the backfield and cut down bruising Frank “The Tank” Summers.
Justin Vincent and Redman were the other running backs utilized in the period, and both had a couple runs into the secondary. Summers was used for power formations between the tackles.
The linemen one-on-ones really didn’t have to many standouts, but Sunny Harris actually has been as consistent as any with a second straight solid performance. He used speed and quickness to get around Max Starks early, and then he beat Adrian Jones two straight.
Tony Hills took his shot at Harris and barely got out of his stance before the second-year pro was at the quarterback. Hills was a little better on a second chance, but he still was handled.
In a matchup of first-team performers, tackle Flozell Adams had little trouble handling Aaron Smith, whom he locked up quickly. Smith yelled afterward that Adams better watch out because he’ll use his speed to beat him.
Offensive guard Trai Essex handled Nick Eason on successive snaps, and after getting beaten twice by Doug Worthington offensive tackle Tony Hills finally stood him up.
Defensive tackle Scott Paxson beat center Justin Hartwig off the ball and got past him with a nice inside move and then used strength to push him straight back after being stopped initially.
Place-kicker Jeff Reed worked on his kickoffs and was 4-for-4 as far as reaching the end zone was concerned.
Stefan Logan had one decent return, but since the drill wasn’t actually live it was difficult to say whether any defender was close enough to stop him. Burnett and Emmanuel Sanders joined Logan deep.
On the injury front, along with the various other injuries dogging the Steelers, running back Rashard Mendenhall had his foot stepped on, which injured a toe. It needed to be drained, so he’s listed as day-to-day. And outside linebacker Jason Worilds suffered a right leg injury, reportedly to his hamstring, but his status is unknown other than that.
Among the walking wounded, running back Jonathan Dwyer continues to be out with his hamstring injury, but offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey’s hamstring issue is improving and he could return by Tuesday afternoon.
Outside linebacker Andre Frazier (knee) did some running Monday morning, and if there isn’t any additional swelling he could return soon. Nose tackle Casey Hampton (hamstring) worked in a limited capacity in the afternoon, so he and offensive guard Ramon Foster (concussion) are much closer to coming back.
The Steelers practice twice Tuesday and Wednesday, but the morning practice Tuesday is just a one-hour, special teams workout.